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Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Thursday, Dec. 17

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced plans Thursday to expand Alberta's rapid testing pilot project to long-term care facilities and rural hospitals, as the province says COVID has now killed more people in Alberta than influenza did over the last 10 years combined.

province reported a record-breaking 30 new COVID-19 deaths Thursday

A patient is attached to a ventilator in the COVID-19 intensive care unit of a hospital. COVID-19 has now killed more people in Alberta than influenza did over the last 10 years combined, 760 people since March, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health warned Wednesday. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The latest:

  • Alberta reported a record-breaking 30 COVID deaths on Thursday. There have now been 790 deaths in the province due to the virus since the pandemic began.
  • The province reported 1,571 new cases over the 24-hour period that ended at midnight Wednesday. 
  • Alberta is expanding rapid testing for COVID-19 to long-term care facilities and rural hospitals, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced Thursday.
  • COVID-19 has now killed more people in Alberta than influenza did over the last 10 years combined, 760 people since March, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health warned Wednesday.
  • Hinshaw specifically targeted people ages 20 to 40, reminding them they're vulnerable to the virus. More than 32,000 Albertans in that age group have contracted the virus, hundreds have been hospitalized and a number have died.
  • Doctors say they are in day-to-day survival mode, as Calgary ICUs stretch the surge capacity.
  • The province now has 19,865 active cases.
  • There are 763 people in hospital, including 138 in intensive care.
  • Hinshaw will give an update on the pandemic in the province Friday at 3:30 p.m. CBC News will carry it live on the website and on Facebook.
  • Calgary students are being sent home with masks, sanitizer and COVID information from the province, in an effort to target areas in the northeast where public health data shows high rates of of infection. 
  • The province said earlier in the week that it would send COVID-19 care teams to the 11 worst-hit communities — nine in Edmonton and two in Calgary (all of northeast Calgary east of Deerfoot Trail). They'll deliver care packages, provide information in multiple languages and arrange on-the-ground support and safe transportation to COVID-19 assessment facilities. 
  • The province has set up 16 self-isolation hotels that will provide a free stay and food for 14 days — six in Calgary, nine in Edmonton and one in Peace River. The Calgary hotels have capacity for 791 people, and the Edmonton hotels can accommodate more than 1,300, Premier Jason Kenney said on Tuesday. Those who self-isolate at the hotels will also be eligible for temporary financial aid in the amount of $625 at the end of their stay. 
  • The province received 3,900 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine on Monday and expects to get another 25,350 doses at the start of next week, officials say.

No safety concerns with COVID-19 vaccinations, says Hinshaw

10 months ago
1:54
Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says that the new vaccination against COVID-19 is safe and it works. 1:54
  • Alberta plans to administer doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to 29,000 health-care workers by the end of December, the province has said. 
  • During the first quarter of 2021, Hinshaw said Wednesday, the vaccine will be given to long-term care residents, staff who work in long-term care and designated supportive living centres, health-care workers in the highest risk areas of hospitals and people over the age of 75. 
  • Alberta Health will publicly report the number of people who have been immunized. People will receive a paper document and their immunization history will also be part of their electronic health file. 
  • Details on the vaccine and Alberta's plans to date can be found here.

What you need to know today in Alberta

The province is expanding rapid testing for COVID-19 to long-term care facilities and rural hospitals, Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced Thursday.

Rapid test kits will first be deployed to long-term care facilities and designated supportive care facilities in Edmonton that are contending with outbreaks, Shandro told a Thursday morning news conference.

Mobile units will be deployed in Edmonton starting Friday. The tests will be used on residents who are exhibiting symptoms. Mobile testing centres are expected to be ready to deployed in Calgary Zone starting the week of Dec. 21, and are expected to focus initially on sites with outbreaks.


On Thursday, 1,571 new cases were reported and the province now has 19,865 active cases. There are 763 people in hospital, including 138 in intensive care.

Alberta reported another 30 deaths on Thursday, bringing the total deaths during the pandemic to 790 since March.

"This is a heartbreaking figure," Hinshaw said Thursday. "While these deaths did not all occur yesterday, this is the highest figure that I have had the sad task of reporting.

"If anyone still needs reminding of the seriousness of this virus, of the importance of the restrictions that are currently in place, and the importance of doing everything possible to limit our interactions and break the chains of transmission, this is it."


Earlier this week, Hinshaw singled out Albertans between 20 and 40 with a warning that the virus can have a potentially long-term and devastating impact on them.

"In Alberta to date, more than 32,000 people between the ages of 20 and 39 have contracted COVID-19. More than 380 of them have been hospitalized, and sadly, eight of these have died."

To put it into perspective, she said, if you gathered all the Albertans in that age group who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, they would fill the Saddledome in Calgary, the Centrium in Red Deer and the Enmax Centre in Lethbridge.

"For everyone of any age, including those between the ages of 20 and 39, it is vital to avoid in-person interactions whenever possible," Hinshaw said.

"This includes not having holiday parties or other gatherings in our homes. Instead, we must all look for ways to connect virtually."


Calgary's ICU occupancy is below 100 per cent thanks to the addition of 30 beds, which increased capacity. It's part of Alberta Health Service's surge planning, but it's not clear how much more wiggle room there is. 

"It really is day-to-day survival mode," said Dr. Selena Au, a specialist who works in three of Alberta's ICUs.

An ICU doctor had previously told CBC the surge plans put in place to deal with soaring COVID-19 cases included 40 beds for Calgary that could be put into use in batches of 10.

The latest batch of 10 was released on Friday, bringing the total number of ICU beds in the zone to 96.

CBC News has asked AHS how many beds are still available as part of its surge plan for Calgary, and while AHS didn't specifically say how many Calgary beds are still available, it reiterated that 425 additional ICU beds are being made available across the province. 

According to AHS, the Calgary zone is currently sitting at 82 per cent in terms of ICU usage and has hovered between 90 and 100 per cent in recent weeks. 


Alberta Health Services and the Red Cross are setting up a 100-bed temporary hospital in the Unversity of Alberta's Butterdome, says the province's chief medical officer of health.

"There is no plan to staff these beds unless they are needed," Dr. Deena Hinshaw said at her daily COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday. "This is a purely precautionary measure for use if needed in the future."

Branded as an "alternate care centre," the temporary setup on the University of Alberta campus could be used for patients recovering from COVID and who are at low risk of transmitting the novel coronavirus that causes the disease, Alberta Health Services spokesperson Kerry Williamson said in an email.


On Wednesday, Hinshaw reiterated the safety and benefits of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as health-care workers begin to receive the first doses. Canada has one of the most robust regulatory systems in the world, Hinshaw said, and no steps were skipped in the approval process. 

The first phase of the province's vaccine program, which provided its initial doses on Tuesday, will target people who are at the highest risk of severe outcomes and those who care for them, Hinshaw said Wednesday.

During the first quarter of 2021, Hinshaw said the vaccine will be given to long-term care residents, staff who work in long-term care and designated supportive living centres, health-care workers in the highest risk areas of hospitals and people over the age of 75. 

"What we're seeing as our Phase 2 would include priority groups who are more of those first-responders and front-line professionals, and that is set to roll out ... at this time, we anticipate in April of 2021," she said.

Decisions haven't yet been made about which of the first-responder groups or front-line workers would be prioritized first, and Hinshaw said those discussions will happen early in the new year. 

Sahra Kaahiye, a respiratory therapist at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton, and Tanya Harvey, an intensive care RN at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, became the first in the province to receive the vaccine after the province received the first 3,900 doses Monday night.

"I am grateful to be one of the first health-care workers in Alberta to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. I am from the Somali community and I want to set an example for my community. In Alberta, we have been battling vaccine misinformation for years and uptake is especially challenging in marginalized communities," Kaahiye said in an emailed release.

"The availability of a COVID-19 vaccine is great news for us. It will help us and it will protect us."


The first doses of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Alberta late on Dec. 15. (Premier Jason Kenney/Twitter)

The province will send COVID care teams to the 11 worst-hit communities — nine in Edmonton and two in Calgary. They'll deliver care packages and provide information in multiple languages, on-the-ground support and safe transportation to COVID-19 assessment facilities. 

The province has also arranged for 16 self-isolation hotels that will provide a free stay and food for 14 days — six in Calgary, nine in Edmonton and one in Peace River. The Calgary hotel has capacity for 791 people, and the Edmonton hotel can accommodate more than 1,300, the premier said on Tuesday. 

Those who self-isolate at the hotels will also be eligible for temporary financial aid in the amount of $625 at the end of their stay. 


Sweeping new restrictions intended to curb the surge of COVID-19 in the province took affect on Dec. 13. They will remain in place at least for four weeks — through Christmas and New Year's:

  • Sweeping new restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 came into effect in Alberta on Dec. 13 and are expected to be in place for at least four weeks:
    • Retail services and malls must now reduce customer capacity to 15 per cent of fire code occupancy.
    • Restaurants, pubs and bars will be closed to in-person service. Takeout, delivery and curbside pickup are still allowed. 
    • Hair salons, nail salons, casinos, bowling alleys, gyms, movie theatres, libraries and museums will be closed starting on Sunday.
    • Places of worship are limited to 15 per cent of fire code occupancy. 
    • All employees are now required to work from home unless their employer determines they need to be at work in person. 
    • Indoor and outdoor social gatherings remain prohibited. People who live alone are limited to up to two close contacts for in-person visits. 
    • Masks are mandatory across the province in all indoor workplaces and facilities outside the home, except when working alone in an office or a safely distanced cubicle or a barrier is in place, when in rental accommodations used solely as a private residence or in farm operations. Alberta had been the only province without a mask mandate until late November.
  • A full list of the new restrictions is available on the province's website
  • Retail services and malls must reduce customer capacity to 15 per cent of fire code occupancy.
  • Restaurants, pubs and bars are closed to in-person service. Takeout, delivery and curbside pickup are allowed. 
  • Hair salons, nail salons, casinos, bowling alleys, gyms, movie theatres, libraries and museums will be closed.
  • Places of worship are limited to 15 per cent of fire code occupancy. 
  • All employees are required to work from home unless their employer determines they need to be at work in person. 
  • A full list of new measures is available on the province's website.

In addition to the restrictions that came into affect on Sunday, indoor and outdoor social gatherings are also prohibited. People who live alone are limited to up to two close contacts for in-person visits. Masks are mandatory across the province in all indoor workplaces and facilities outside the home. Until November, Alberta had been the only province without a mask mandate. 

Hinshaw said the target of the new restrictions is not to reach zero COVID-19 cases, something other jurisdictions have aimed for, but to no longer have the health-care system be at risk. 

"These are decisions that we have arrived at not as a first resort but as a last resort, to protect lives and to preserve our health-care system," Premier Jason Kenney said. 


A drone shot of the Calgary Foothills Medical Centre in December 2020. As of Dec. 14, there were 716 people being treated in Alberta hospitals for the illness, including 136 in ICU beds. (David Bajer/CBC)

Alberta released a new ad campaign on Friday featuring a man intended to represent the COVID-19 virus at a party and at a holiday gathering.

It was the slogan of another COVID-19 ad that inspired Kurt Beaudoin to create the funny yet villainous character who has already become a household name in Alberta.

"Covid loves to mingle," the 45-year-old recalled reading on a government billboard. The creative storyteller at Edmonton's ZGM Modern Marketing Partners and his colleagues later came up with a series of public service ads for a campaign launched by the province.

Mr. Covid, or "Creepy Uncle Covid," and his grey, oversized head with protruding red spikes and a wide twisted smile, is the main character in the $2-million campaign called "Covid Loves."

Beaudoin says the anti-hero, like the novel coronavirus, can blend seamlessly into any environment and spread an infection that has killed thousands of Canadians.

Speaking Thursday, Hinshaw noted that seasonal holidays are about a week away and reminded the public to follow the restrictions put in place by the province.

"This year, we can and must celebrate differently," she said. "Holiday gatherings with people outside of your household are not only against the restrictions that are in place, they are also the wrong thing to do right now."


Click on the map below to zoom in or out on specific local geographic areas in Alberta and find out more about COVID-19 there:

The Government of Alberta has launched a new advertising campaign featuring Mr. COVID aimed at bringing awareness of dangers of the disease using humour. (Government of Alberta )

Here is the regional breakdown of active cases reported on Thursday:

  • Calgary zone: 7,043, down from 7,122 reported on Wednesday (26,373 recovered).
  • Edmonton zone:  9,525, down from 9,715 (27,004 recovered).
  • North zone: 1,214, down from 1,245 (4,455 recovered).
  • South zone: 541, down from 553 (4,081 recovered). 
  • Central zone: 1,462, up from 1,458 (3,450 recovered).
  • Unknown: 80, up from 76 (150 recovered).

Find out which neighbourhoods or communities have the most cases, how hard people of different ages have been hit, the ages of people in hospital, how Alberta compares to other provinces and more in: Here are the latest COVID-19 statistics for Alberta — and what they mean

What you need to know today in Canada:

As of 6 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada's COVID-19 case count stood at 487,964, with 76,244 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC's reporting stood at 13,895.

Ontario reported 2,139 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday with 43 additional deaths, bringing the death toll in the province to 4,035. Hospitalizations also climbed, hitting 932 — with 256 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

Toronto Mayor John Tory on Wednesday urged people to stay home and said he thinks there's a need for broader restrictions.

"People are finding it too easy to move back and forth and do things we're discouraging them from doing," Tory said.

In Quebec, schools are closed and most office workers will be working from home from Thursday until at least Jan. 11 as new restrictions kick in.

Health officials in the province reported 1,897 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 43 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 7,613. Hospitalizations in Quebec increased to 975, with 128 people in intensive care units.

168,000 Moderna COVID-19 vaccines could be in Canada by year's end

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Moderna could ship up to 168,000 doses of its COVID-19 vaccine before the end of the year once it’s approved by Health Canada, which is believed to be close. The prime minister said Moderna could ship vaccines within 48 hours of approval. 1:56

In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick reported eight new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, Newfoundland and Labrador reported five new cases and Nova Scotia reported four new cases. There were no new cases reported in Prince Edward Island.

COVID-19 vaccination efforts got underway Wednesday in all the Atlantic provinces except for New Brunswick, which is set to begin its campaign on the weekend.

Health officials in Manitoba reported 292 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 15 additional deaths, bringing the death toll in the province to 523. 

Manitoba got its vaccination effort underway Wednesday and plans to give 900 health-care workers the Pfizer-BioNTech shot this week.

In Saskatchewan, health officials reported 129 new cases of COVID-19 and no additional deaths.

A new restriction stating that people in the province can no longer have guests in their homes goes into effect Thursday, along with several other public-health rules, and will remain in force until at least Jan. 15.

In British Columbia, health officials reported 640 new cases of COVID-19 and 16 additional deaths. There have now been 692 deaths in the province since the pandemic began.

A joint statement from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix says 409 doses of the COVID vaccine were administered on Tuesday and the province expects to see weekly vaccine deliveries starting next week.

Across the North, there were no new cases of COVID-19 reported in Yukon, the Northwest Territories or Nunavut.

Self-assessment and supports:

With winter cold and influenza season approaching, Alberta Health Services will prioritize Albertans for testing who have symptoms, and those groups which are at higher risk of getting or spreading the virus.

General asymptomatic testing is currently unavailable for people with no known exposure to COVID-19.

Those who test positive will be asked to use the online COVID-19 contact tracing tool, so that their close contacts can be notified by text message.

The province says Albertans who have returned to Canada from other countries must self-isolate. Unless your situation is critical and requires a call to 911, Albertans are advised to call Health Link at 811 before visiting a physician, hospital or other health-care facility.

If you have symptoms, even mild, you are to self-isolate for at least 10 days from the onset of symptoms, until the symptoms have disappeared. 

You can find Alberta Health Services' latest coronavirus updates here.


A clinical allergist answers key questions about the vaccine:

Clinical allergist answers key questions about vaccine

10 months ago
7:29
Dr. Zainab Abdurrahman, a clinical immunologist and allergist, says only one ingredient in the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been known to cause allergic reactions in the past. And the ingredient, polyethylene glycol, is already widely used. The other ingredients are not known to cause allergy. 7:29

The province also operates a confidential mental health support line at 1-877-303-2642 and addiction help line at 1-866-332-2322, both available 24 hours a day. 

Online resources are available for advice on handling stressful situations and ways to talk with children.

There is a 24-hour family violence information line at 310-1818 to get anonymous help in more than 170 languages, and Alberta's One Line for Sexual Violence is available at 1-866-403-8000, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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