'Variants are winning': Alberta in 3rd wave of COVID-19, premier says

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Premier Jason Kenney and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, updated Albertans Thursday on the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Premier Jason Kenney and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, updated Albertans Thursday on the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Premier Jason Kenney says Alberta is into its third wave of COVID-19 and on Thursday warned that, in the race between variants and vaccines, the "variants are winning."

At a news conference, Kenney said he was hoping to tell Albertans that the province had turned a corner in the fight against COVID-19 and that people could celebrate the long weekend with extended family and friends.

"Unfortunately, we're not in that situation today," he said. "Instead of delivering a message of openness and optimism, I'm here instead with a plea: Please, please, follow Alberta's health restrictions and guidelines this weekend and in the weeks to come."

Those restrictions include a ban on indoor social gatherings and a 10-person maximum limit on groups getting together outdoors.

"All of our leading indicators are telling us that we are now in a significant new wave of COVID-19. How bad that wave will be is up to all of us," he said.

"How many hundreds or thousands of people it sends to hospitals, how many surgeries it forces us to cancel and how many lives it takes is all up to the decisions that we make now."

Kenney blamed Alberta's plunge into the third wave on those who continue to socialize, particularly indoors, despite public health guidance to the contrary.

"Our last wave began clearly right after Thanksgiving, when Albertans had gathered indoors and around the table to celebrate with food, drinks and conversation," he said.

"Our contact tracing data confirms clearly that these kinds of activities — at home, indoor socializing — are by far the most responsible for spreading COVID-19."

'It's a complex situation'

Kenney and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, both spoke at the Thursday news conference in which they warned the surge in variants is putting Albertans at risk.

WATCH | Jason Kenney urges Albertans to follow health guidelines:

Hinshaw said the surge of infections is not related to the easing of restrictions over the last two months. In fact, she said, comparisons with case growth in other provinces suggest that Alberta would have seen this surge regardless.

"It's a complex situation that's not just about the rules on paper but also people's willingness to follow them," she said.

The tables will turn once there is enough vaccine protection within the community "stop cases from becoming hospitalizations," she said.

"People really, really want to be able to do the things that they love and right now. What we're telling them is that you can do those things in a few months' time.

"But right now, you need to be thinking about your community, about your neighbours, about the people that you love and the fact that we need to stop the spread for the next couple of months until vaccines are in arms and are protecting us as a population and individually."

Latest case numbers

On Thursday, Alberta reported 875 new cases of the illness, 322 of which involved variant strains.

The variant strains, more infectious than the original strain, have pushed the number of active cases in the province to 8,653.

Variants of concern now account for one-third of active cases of COVID-19 in the province.

"Here's the blunt reality that we simply cannot wish away right now: in the race between vaccines and variants of COVID-19, the variants are winning," Kenney said.

There are 292 people in hospital with the disease, 59 of them in intensive care. Four more people have died from the disease.

A case-to-hospitalization ratio is now at six per cent, Kenney said. That means the variant is sending more people to hospital than the original virus.

"We know with great certainty that we will have close to 500 COVID patients in hospital just two weeks from now. If growth continues on its current pace, that will turn into about 1,000 people a month from now and so on," he said.

Here's is how the active cases break down across the province:

  • Calgary zone: 4,058

  • Edmonton zone: 1,889

  • North zone: 1,058

  • South zone: 864

  • Central zone: 741

  • Unknown: 43