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Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Wednesday, Dec. 2

CBC News has learned the province has reached out to the federal government and the Canadian Red Cross for help as COVID-19 cases surge in Alberta.

Alberta reported 10 more COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday and 1,685 new cases

Health-care workers attend to a ICU COVID-19 patient at Peter Lougheed Centre on Nov. 14, 2020. As of Tuesday afternoon's provincial update, there were 97 people in ICU, out of 479 in hospital, both record high numbers. The province has 173 intensive care beds but is working to add another 250.  (Submitted by AHS/Leah Hennel)

The latest:

  • CBC News has learned the province has reached out to the federal government and the Canadian Red Cross for help as COVID-19 cases surge in Alberta.
  • As Alberta rolls out COVID-19 vaccines in three phases next year, most members of the public will likely have to wait until summer for their shots, according to Premier Jason Kenney.
  • Alberta reported 1,685 new cases on Wednesday. The province has reported more than 1,000 cases each day for nearly two weeks. 
  • There are 17,144 active cases in Alberta, compared with 14,526 in Ontario, a province with more than three times as many people.
  • There are 97 people in ICU, out of 504 in hospital, both record high numbers. The province has 173 intensive care beds but is working to add another 250. 
  • 10 more people have died, for a total of 561. 
  • There are more than 6,331 active cases in Calgary and more than 7,857 active cases in Edmonton
  • The number of continuing care facilities in Alberta with COVID-19 outbreaks of two or more cases has more than tripled in three weeks, causing advocates to sound the alarm. In three weeks, the total number of active COVID-19 cases in Alberta care homes has shot to 123 from 40. 
  • Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, says cabinet will make decisions later this month on what restrictions will be in place for the winter holidays. She said holidays have proven risky for transmission, so Albertans should prepare for a much different winter season. 
  • Alberta Health Services says a memo urging Calgary hospital staff to reduce use of oxygen is a proactive response to an anticipated increase in demand as COVID-19 hospitalizations climb. But some doctors say the request is concerning and not something they've seen before. 
  • Alberta Health is now collecting data on the racial and ethnic background of people diagnosed with COVID-19 but says the data is not yet ready for public release because it's not complete.
  • For many weeks now, Calgary-Upper NE has had the highest total number of active COVID-19 cases of the 132 "local geographic areas" (or LGAs). The area surpassed 1,000 last week, a number not seen anywhere else in the province at any time during the pandemic. As of Sunday, there were 1,194 cases. That's double the numbers seen earlier in the month.
  • COVID-19 outbreaks have two Edmonton long-term care centres struggling to care for their residents. Between them, Capital Care Lynnwood and the Edmonton Chinatown Care Centre have 60 active cases among staff and residents.
  • There are 41 cases linked to an outbreak at the Calgary Remand Centre. There are reports of inmates being triple-bunked at the centre, according to concerned defence lawyers. 
  • Calgary officials said Monday that the city would start being more aggressive to enforce COVID-related health orders meant to fight the ongoing pandemic, after hundreds of people marched in anti-mask protests on the weekend and shoppers packed at least one mall for Black Friday sales.
  • Peace officers or police can fine people who break restrictions $1,000 per ticketed offence and up to $100,000 through the courts. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney declared a state of public health emergency on Nov. 24, along with a slate of new restrictions that will remain in place for at least three weeks. A full list of the new restrictions is available on the province's website
  • Hinshaw said Monday it is Albertans' democratic right to protest, but that guidelines are available as to how to do so safely. 
  • The Town of Banff is opening isolation spaces Tuesday among other measures meant to help the mountain town cope with the second highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita in Alberta. The emergency housing is available to anyone who lives in shared accommodation and has tested positive or is a close contact of someone who has tested positive. 
  • One unit at South Health Campus in Calgary is on outbreak, after a patient in the orthopedics unit tested positive.

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:

What you need to know today in Alberta

Alberta has asked the federal government and Red Cross for field hospitals as local hospitals become overwhelmed and the province struggles with COVID cases surging, CBC News has learned.

A provincial government official confirmed that a request had been made, but said the request represented contingency planning only at this time.

A federal source with direct knowledge said Alberta asked the federal government and the Red Cross to supply field hospitals to help offset the strain the pandemic is having on the health-care system.

"I think it's a sign of responsible planning on our part for [a] potential extreme scenario," Kenney said at a news conference Wednesday.

Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, told Albertans that cabinet will make a decision about restrictions for the winter holidays later this month, but that people should prepare for a very different holiday season. 

"The actions we take now and over the coming weeks will determine how the virus is spreading when the holidays arrive," she said.

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

  • Calgary zone: 6,331, up from 6,162 reported on Tuesday. 
  • Edmonton zone: 7,857, up from 7,552.
  • North zone: 967, up from 895.
  • South zone: 663, down from 672.
  • Central zone: 1,226, down from 1,249.
  • Unknown: 100, up from 98. 
     
  • 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
(CBC)

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's approval rating has dropped from a high of 61 per cent last year to 40 per cent in a recent survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institute.

Political observers say it's a reflection of how Kenney's UCP government has managed the COVID-19 pandemic, that he's been unable to placate those who would like to see more restrictions to rein in record cases of the coronavirus. 

"You've got, politically, a premier that is really, you know, pleasing neither side and is being punished by both ends," said Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute, which conducted the survey during the last week of November.

The number of continuing care facilities in Alberta with COVID-19 outbreaks of two or more cases has more than tripled in three weeks, causing advocates to sound the alarm.

In three weeks, the total number of active COVID-19 cases in Alberta care homes has shot to 123 from 40.

As of Wednesday morning, 351 residents of long-term care facilities or supportive/home living sites have died of COVID in the province since the pandemic began, according to the government.

That's 64 per cent of the 551 reported COVID deaths in Alberta.

At one of them, Clifton Manor in southeast Calgary, an ongoing outbreak has led to 74 COVID-19 cases and three deaths.

For months, Conroy has been calling for dedicated contact tracing and testing at Alberta continuing care facilities.

And two Edmonton long-term care centres battling deadly outbreaks of COVID-19 are struggling to stay on top of patient care as the disease spreads among staff and residents.

Capital Care Lynnwood and the Edmonton Chinatown Care Centre are among 26 long-term care sites in the Edmonton zone listed on Tuesday as having COVID-19 outbreaks. 

As of Monday, the Lynnwood facility was reporting 84 active cases — 29 staff and 55 residents — plus six deaths. At the Chinatown centre, there are active cases among 45 residents and 42 staff, while 12 residents have died.

Alberta Health Services said plans are in the works to more than double the number of ICU spaces. Alberta added 20 additional intensive-care beds in Edmonton over the past week and 10 more in Calgary.

Hospitals across the province are working to dedicate 2,200 beds for COVID patients, as they did last spring, Premier Jason Kenney said in the legislature Monday. Dr. David Zygun, medical director for the Edmonton zone, said there are plans to increase the province's ICU bed capacity for adults from 173 to 425.

"Let us hope it is not necessary," Kenney said. "And ultimately, that's up to Albertans to respond positively to both the restrictions and guidelines articulated by the government last week."

COVID's presence in Alberta ICUs has more than tripled during the last month. On Oct. 30, 24 people were critically ill with an infection. Alberta hit a new record of 97 COVID patients in ICUs on Tuesday.

Currently, 20 Alberta hospitals are now battling COVID-19 outbreaks.

According to information published by AHS, there are more than 190 COVID cases connected to active hospital outbreaks right now, and at least 20 deaths are linked to the outbreaks.

Since last Thursday, outbreaks have been declared at health centres in Drumheller, Oyen and Devon, along with Chinook Regional hospital in Lethbridge.

In Calgary, outbreaks at three adult hospitals continue to grow. There are now 29 cases on four units at the Rockyview General. An outbreak has been declared on another unit at the Peter Lougheed hospital, bringing the total there to 18 cases on four units. There have been three deaths linked to that one. The latest Foothills hospital outbreaks are affecting two units. There are now 10 cases there and one person has died.

Alberta Health is now collecting data on the racial and ethnic background of people diagnosed with COVID-19 but says the data is not yet ready for public release because it's not complete.

A snippet of the data was put out by the premier's issues manager Monday, in defence of the premier's comments about high caseloads in the South Asian community.

"Albertans of South & East Asian descent account for just under 20 per cent of COVID-19 cases, but represent only 11 per cent of the population," Matt Wolf posted on Twitter.

The tweet was one of several Wolf posted in response to what he described as misplaced outrage from some of Premier Jason Kenney's critics over Kenney's recent comments about high caseloads in northeast Calgary, where many South Asian immigrant families live, among others.

"Some are arguing that the premier is 'blaming' or 'stigmatizing' Albertans by trying to raise awareness amongst cultural communities about how to slow the spread," Wolf tweeted. "No, the premier is not 'blaming' any groups of Albertans. COVID-19 affects all elements of our society. But data does show that some cultural communities are disproportionately affected."

A floor sign at a northeast Calgary supermarket urges shoppers to keep their distance. People who live and work in the northeast say there are many reasons that make their communities easy pickings for a virus that thrives on density and easy opportunities for transmission. Those opportunities vary from residents working public-facing, low-income jobs with no opportunity to work from home, to a culture of large, multi-generational households in densely populated neighbourhoods. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

The comments come as Calgary-Upper NE, one of 132 "local geographic areas" that the province uses in reporting COVID-19 cases, has struggled for many weeks with the most  cases of any LGA in the province.

The number of active COVID-19 cases there surpassed 1,000 last week, a number not seen anywhere else in the province at any time during the pandemic. As of Sunday, there were 1,194 cases. That's double the numbers seen earlier in the month.

People who live and work in the northeast say there are many reasons that make their communities easy pickings for a virus that thrives on density and easy opportunities for transmission. Those opportunities vary from residents working public-facing, low-income jobs with no opportunity to work from home, to a culture of large, multi-generational households in densely populated neighbourhoods

Many said they thought the types of jobs worked by those living in the northeast could represent the number one factor behind the high COVID-19 numbers.

Hundreds marched through downtown Calgary on Saturday to protest against mandated masks and other public health measures intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the same day record highs in new cases and hospitalizations were reported in the province.

Some signs at Saturday's protest expressed misinformation, saying vaccines can alter DNA or that masks cause bacterial or fungal infections. Others expressed economic concerns, or anger at the federal or provincial government. Members of at least two far-right or white supremacist groups were also seen in attendance. 

No tickets were handed out at Saturday's protest, but police say they are considering a plan for strategic enforcement going forward. 

Also despite the new provincial restrictions, large crowds of shoppers descended for Black Friday sales at Chinook Centre in Calgary — and police say a couple of instances quickly got out of control.

Multiple fights broke out and officers escorted a "whole bunch" of unruly patrons out of the facility. No charges were laid.

Cadillac Fairview, the mall's owner, said in a memo to employees that the mall itself won't be managing capacity restrictions, but that task will fall to each store. The mall also notified retailers that there were confirmed COVID cases at Nordstrom, Pandora, Hudson's Bay, Nespresso and Mr. Pretzel, as well as one Cadillac Fairview employee. 

Forest Lawn Library in Calgary is closing temporarily after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. The employee was at work on Saturday and had contact with the public. 

Kenney has repeatedly said social gatherings are the largest source of transmission in the province, adding that, for example, the risk of transmission in restaurants is lower than at home. However, he did not share what percentage of transmissions are linked to social gatherings. According the Alberta Health, 85 per cent of cases have an unknown source of transmission. 

What you need to know today in Canada:

As of 6:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada's COVID-19 case count stood at 389,775, with 67,564 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC's reporting stood at 12,325.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought to reassure the country on Tuesday that his government will be ready to deploy shots soon after they receive the necessary Health Canada approvals. He said the independent scientists reviewing the clinical trial data submitted by the drugmakers behind four promising vaccine candidates are working hard to ensure the safety of these products before Ottawa starts shipments.

The Liberal government is preparing to spend up to $100 billion to kick start the post-pandemic economy as it stares down a record-high deficit projection of more than $381 billion for this fiscal year. The short-term stimulus package is valued at $70 billion to $100 billion over roughly three years. The government says the stimulus spending will launch after a vaccine is distributed and life begins to return to normal.

Manitoba reported 16 additional deaths on Tuesday, a new daily high in a province that has been struggling with growing COVID-19 case numbers.

"This is a tragedy for all Manitobans," Dr. Brent Roussin said Tuesday after reading a list with the ages and communities of those who died. "We know that these are much more than numbers. These are people who are missed right now."

Manitoba, which has seen a total of 328 deaths, reported 283 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday — the first time in more than a week that the new case number in the province dropped below 300.

British Columbia reported 16 additional deaths on Tuesday, bringing the provincial death toll to 457. Health officials in the province reported 656 new cases of COVID-19 and said there were 336 people in hospital, including 76 in intensive care.

Faced with rising case numbers, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix reiterated their plea for people to follow rules put in place to try and slow the spread of the virus.

In Saskatchewan, health officials reported 181 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 51.

The province's minister of corrections said she doesn't know how COVID-19 arrived in the Saskatoon Correctional Centre, which is dealing with a growing outbreak that has led to well over 100 cases among inmates, as well as several infections among staff.

Ontario on Wednesday reported 1,723 new cases of COVID-19, with 500 cases in Peel Region and 410 in Toronto. Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a tweet that 44,200 tests had been completed. Health officials also reported 35 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 3,698.

Hospitalizations increased to 656, with 183 people in intensive care units, according to a provincial dashboard.

Health officials in Quebec on Wednesday reported 1,514 new cases of COVID-19 and 43 additional deaths. Hospitalizations increased to 740, with 99 patients being treated in intensive care units.

In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case of COVID-19 on Wednesday.

There were 11 new cases of COVID-19 reported on Wednesday in Nunavut, which is at the end of a two-week lockdown period that covered the entire territory. All of the new cases were reported in Arviat, where tight public health restrictions are still in effect.

The Northwest Territories and Yukon had no new cases on Tuesday.

The head of a U.S. biotechnology company that is developing one of the most promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates says Canada is not far behind other countries when it comes to receiving doses of its vaccine, despite criticism of the government's procurement plan from the Conservative opposition.

"Canada is not at the back of the line," Noubar Afeyan, co-founder and chairman of Moderna, told CBC's Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton on Sunday.

Moderna Inc. said it would ask U.S. and European regulators Monday to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine as new study results confirm the shots offer strong protection — ramping up the race to begin limited vaccinations as the coronavirus rampage worsens.

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.

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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