(Art Raham/CBC - image credit)
Alberta reported 50 more cases of the highly contagious variants of the coronavirus Tuesday.
Those 50 variant cases were confirmed by testing from Friday to Monday, an average of about a dozen each day, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday.
The province also reported nine more deaths with five of the deaths from this month, three from November and one from December.
There were 263 new cases of COVID-19 reported on Tuesday bringing the number of active COVID-19 cases across the province to 4,993, with 365 patients being treated in hospitals for the illness, including 56 in ICU beds.
The last time Alberta had fewer than 5,000 active cases was on Oct. 28, when there were 4,899. But Hinshaw noted at a news conference Tuesday that on Oct. 17 there were 122 people in hospital with the illness, and that number is now three times higher.
The regional breakdown of active cases was:
Calgary zone: 1,887
Edmonton zone: 1,333
North zone: 737
Central zone: 679
South zone: 344
More variant cases not linked to travel
The province now has a total of 221 cases of two faster-spreading variant strains of the virus. Of those cases, 214 are the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom and seven are the variant first detected in South Africa.
"I know that many Albertans are concerned about these variants, and I am, too," Hinshaw said.
"I am particularly concerned about the growing number of cases that are not linked to travel," she said. "Though many of these cases are the results of close contacts that we have identified through robust contact tracing."
Provincial labs completed 5,216 tests on Monday, with a positivity rate of about five per cent, higher than in previous days.
"This is an increase from where we have been in the past few weeks, which is concerning," Hinshaw said. "It is possible this increase is because of changes in who went for testing over the long weekend. So we will be watching closely in the days to come to see if this is an isolated finding or a concerning trend."
Alberta eased some restrictions a week ago, but it's too early to say what impact those changes are having, Hinshaw said.
Restriction on gatherings to stay
Evidence shows that social gatherings are responsible the highest rates of transmission, she said, noting the province saw its last spikes following Thanksgiving and Halloween holiday season get-togethers.
"Four months later, with some of the strictest measures in place, we're still working to reduce the ripple effects of our previous interactions," Hinshaw said.
"These numbers underscore the power that our actions have. Power that can lead to uncontrolled spread if we are not vigilant, or power that can slow transmission down when we work together and follow the rules."
Restrictions on gatherings, she said, have had the biggest impact on reducing spread in the province and have helped relieve the pressure on the health-care system, enabling the province to get to the point where it is today.
"We cannot become complacent now, especially with the arrival of variants of concern in our province."
No restaurant capacity limits
Hinshaw said she is hearing a lot of questions around capacity limits at restaurants.
Unlike other public settings, such as retail stores, Alberta has not implemented specific capacity limits on restaurants, bars and lounges, Hinshaw said. Instead, the province has put in place physical-distancing rules that require a minimum of two-metres between tables.
"In addition, we have limited the number of people in a dining party who can be seated at the same table to a maximum of six. And these must be members of the same household or an individual living alone with their two contacts."
The approach reduces the capacity of the venue, she said.
"This is an important distinction because, unlike retail shoppers in a store, who are always wearing masks and may only briefly get close to each other in certain high traffic areas, individuals eating and drinking are not wearing masks and they remain in a location for an extended period of time.
"This makes it critical that they are appropriately spaced from other parties for the duration of time that they are in the restaurant."
The R-values from Feb. 8 to Feb. 14 was:
Alberta provincewide: 0.85 (confidence interval) (0.82-0.89)
Edmonton Zone: 0.78 (confidence interval) (0.71-0.85)
Calgary Zone: 0.82 (confidence interval) (0.76-0.88)
Rest of Alberta: 0.94 (confidence interval) (0.88-1.01)
The R-value is essentially the number of people infected by each infected person. It's also known as the reproduction number or R-number.