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Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Wednesday, Dec. 23

Alberta Health Services has begun the rollout of an additional 25,350 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to all health-care zones, while the Alberta government loosens the rules just a bit to allow people who live alone to visit another home one time over the holidays.

Health Canada approves Moderna COVID-19 vaccine

Two men carrying a take-out pizza and wearing masks walk past Christmas themed public art display in Calgary on Dec. 16, 2020, amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The latest:

  • Alberta is making a one-time exemption to its social gathering rules for people who live alone, allowing them to visit another household once between Dec. 23 and 28, the province announced Tuesday. A household must host a maximum of only two people who live alone. 
  • The province is also relaxing its rules on massage therapy, which will now be allowed if someone has a prescription and if precautionary measures are in place.
  • Alberta Health Services began the rollout of an additional 25,350 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to all health-care zones on Wednesday. More than 3,000 health-care workers in Calgary and Edmonton have received their first dose.
  • Health Canada has approved Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine for use in this country, clearing the way for thousands of doses to arrive by month's end. The federal department announced the approval on Wednesday after completing a review of the company's clinical trial data.
  • Alberta reported 19 more COVID-19 deaths and 1,301 new cases on Wednesday, with a positivity rate of 6.8 per cent, down slightly from the previous day's 7.2 per cent. The province conducted more than 19,000 tests over the past 24 hours.
  • That brings the total number of active cases in the province to 17,821, down from 18,311 the previous day.
  • The active case total peaked at 21,138 on Dec. 13, the day after a raft of new provincial restrictions went into effect.
  • But while the daily case tally has slightly declined, hospitalizations have continued to increase, with 821  people in hospital, including 136 in ICU. A total of 890 people have died. 
  • Alberta leads the country in terms of the number of passengers hit with fines or warning letters for refusing to wear a mask on board a flight, CBC reported Tuesday.
  • Anyone who has been in the United Kingdom in the past 14 days should get tested for COVID-19, whether they're symptomatic or not in view of the new, potentially more contagious strain of the coronavirus spreading in that country, the Alberta government said Monday. The province also said travellers from the UK who are participating in Alberta's border pilot rapid-test program must immediately quarantine, whether they've had a negative test or not.
  • A Calgary judge on Monday rejected an emergency application seeking a stay of Alberta's COVID-19 public health restrictions, including bans on gatherings and mandatory masks. A Calgary law firm and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms appeared in court Monday morning to make an application for an emergency injunction staying Alberta's public health restrictions alleging they violate constitutionally guaranteed rights. 
  • A southern Alberta hockey coach has been suspended and fined after speaking with the media about a COVID-19 outbreak on his team last month, CBC News reported Wednesday.
  • Parks Canada is asking hikers and skiers heading to the trails to plan ahead, as COVID-19 restrictions may force plans to shift, especially during the winter holidays.
  • Single parents have always shouldered extra responsibilities, but the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated challenges for this growing segment of the Alberta population.
  • A pastor was fined $1,200 on Sunday for violation of health orders at the GraceLife Church in Edmonton.
  • Paramedics are asking the government to expedite their access to the COVID-19 vaccine, as it's not clear when they will be immunized.  which the government plans to administer to  29,000 health-care workers by the end of December and give 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 in the first quarter of 2021.
  • A field hospital in Edmonton could open by mid-January, AHS said Monday.

What you need to know today in Alberta

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said on Tuesday there will be a one-time exemption to the province's gathering restrictions, allowing people who live alone to visit another household once between Dec. 23-28. 

A household must only host a maximum of two people who live alone, not including minors.

The province also relaxed another rule — massage therapy will now be allowed for those who have a prescription, with precautions in place. 

Premier Jason Kenney gives holiday exemption to Albertans who live alone

CBC News Edmonton

2 months ago
2:50
Premier Jason Kenney says new exemption allows Albertans who live alone to spend time with others over the holiday. 2:50

Alberta reported 19 more COVID-19 deaths and 1,301 new cases on Wednesday, with a positivity rate of 6.8 per cent, down slightly from the previous day's 7.2 per cent. That brings the total number of active cases in the province to 17,821, down from 18,311 the previous day.

Hospitalizations have continued to increase, with 821 people in hospital, including 136 in ICU. A total of 890 people have died. 

Kenney asked those who are thinking of breaking the rules over the holidays to consider the possible impact on the lives of others. 

"This is not a theory. This is not a model. This is not a political preference. It is a simple, hard, numerical reality of the pressure on the health-care system, which without these kinds of difficult restrictions and measures would, within a matter of weeks, undoubtedly overwhelm Alberta's health-care system," he said. 

"So we ask for people's understanding at this particular time of year as they gather in smaller household groups to please do everything you can to avoid turning Christmas into a super-spreader event that could have [a] devastating impact on the lives and health of thousands of your fellow Albertans."

The provincewide R-value, or number of people infected by each person with the virus, was 0.92. 


Huan Zhang, a respiratory therapist at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Grande Prairie, Alta., receives the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 23, 2020. (Chris Beauchamp for Alberta Health Services)

Health-care workers throughout the province began rolling up their sleeves Wednesday as Alberta Health Services began rollling out an additional 25,350 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

 AHS says 14 dedicated COVID-19 centres have been set up to receive the vaccine, which will be given to all eligible respiratory therapists, ICU staff and doctors, and some continuing care health-care workers.

Those getting immunized at this early stage were chosen based on how much they interacted with active COVID-19 cases, their risk of transmission and their roles on the front lines of the pandemic response, the government says.


A southern Alberta hockey coach has been suspended and fined after speaking with the media about a COVID-19 outbreak on his team last month, CBC News has learned.

On Friday, the league issued a 15-game suspension and a $1,000 fine against Andrew Milne, the coach of the Alberta Junior Hockey League's Canmore Eagles, according to an email to AJHL executives and its member teams.

The suspension and fine were confirmed by league commissioner Ryan Bartoshyk, who said Milne was disciplined for "bringing discredit to the league."

Meanwhile, the league is preventing teams from speaking publicly or posting on social media ordering all media requests related to the pandemic or the league's return to play plan to the AJHL Office.

AJHL commissioner Ryan Bartoshyk, right, announced the suspension and fine issued against Canmore Eagles coach Andrew Milne, left, following Milne's interviews with media regarding his team's Covid outbreak. (Facebook/Canmore Eagles, AJHL.ca)

Prison justice advocates are calling for swift, proactive steps to protect people in Alberta correctional centres and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The Alberta Prison Justice Society (APJS) sent an open letter addressed to the government, remand centres Crown prosecutors, police and health authorities on Monday raising concerns about COVID-19 outbreaks in Alberta's correctional institutions.

According to Alberta Health Services on Monday, there are 71 active cases of COVID-19 connected to an outbreak in the Calgary Remand Centre, as well as 257 people who have recovered. Another 36 inmates were released to the community for a public health follow up, and seven inmates at the centre tested positive in cases unrelated to the outbreak. There are also 56 correctional and AHS staff members, and one contractor, at the Calgary Remand Centre who have tested positive.

Around the rest of the province, 44 inmates and two staff members at the Edmonton Remand Centre have tested positive for COVID-19 in connection to a facility outbreak, AHS said. Fifteen inmates and one staff member at the Fort Saskatchewan Correctional Centre and one inmate at the Peace River Correctional Centre have also tested positive.

Amanda Hart-Dowhun, APJS president, wrote in the letter that her organization wants to ensure there's a plan to protect inmates and staff from future outbreaks.

Hart-Dowhun said inmates and correctional staff are feeling stressed.

"From the perspective of many of the inmates, they're extremely stressed, because a lot of them are surrounded by people who have COVID-19 and there are no reasonable steps they can take to keep themselves safe," Hart-Dowhun said.

There are 71 active cases of COVID-19 connected to an outbreak in the Calgary Remand Centre, as well as 257 people who have recovered, according to Alberta Health Services on Monday. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Transport Canada has handed out dozens of tickets and warning letters to passengers who refuse to wear masks on flights. Most of those have involved Alberta. 

A review of Transport Canada data by CBC News reveals that WestJet passengers have been the hardest hit — with 50 of the 72 incidents, or nearly 70 per cent, involving passengers on the Calgary-based airline.

WestJet passengers were also issued eight of the nine fines levied, with tickets ranging from $100 to as high as $2,000.

Those who receive warning letters could be handed a bigger fine if they violate the rules a second time. Transport Canada says the fine could be as high as $5,000.

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. A full list of the tighter measures is available on the province's website.


 

Single parents have always shouldered extra responsibilities, but the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated challenges for this growing segment of the Alberta population.

According to census data from Statistics Canada, Alberta is home to more than 186,000 lone-parent families. 

Though some share custody or have the help of a live-in partner, others have navigated the pandemic almost entirely on their own, balancing work, school and child care. 

On the In Search of Christmas Spirit trail

CBC News Calgary

2 months ago
3:26
This immersive art exhibit in Banff is helping locals find the Christmas spirit. Find out what you're missing if you live outside the Bow Valley. 3:26

The pandemic has increased the weight of those responsibilities, according to Layna Haley, who runs support groups for single mothers online through the St. Albert-based Kaleo Collective. Her organization has seen a surge in single mothers seeking supports, she said.

Seven parents in the COVID-19 hotspots of Edmonton and Calgary shared their struggles — and successes — with CBC just days before the province enacted new restrictions. You can read them here.


Parks Canada is asking hikers and skiers heading to the trails to plan ahead, as COVID-19 restrictions may force plans to shift, especially during the winter holidays.

Daniella Rubeling, visitor experience manager for the agency's Banff field unit, says one of the most important things to prepare for is the weather. 

"Winter weather conditions can change quickly. And as we can see today, you know, the weather conditions can be quite extreme sometimes. And so we want to make sure people are prepared with the right clothing, the right gear, checking the conditions before they go and making sure that they have some alternative plans in place," she said on Tuesday.

"So should weather conditions change or parking lots be full … have some backup areas to visit."

Single parents share challenges of pandemic

CBC News Edmonton

3 months ago
0:56
Single parents in Alberta talk about how they are handling work, school and child care during the COVID-19 pandemic. 0:56

Some parts of the Rockies received between 20 and 70 centimetres of snow on Tuesday, causing road closures and putting many areas at high risk of avalanches.

Another concern, Rubeling said, is people who are new to winter outdoor recreation.

While there are some closures, there's still plenty to do in the mountain town and park — like winter walks, cross-country skiing and fat-biking. There is also downhill skiing, but some hills like Lake Louise have moved toward a reservation system.

People can visit the Parks Canada website for details on what's open, what's closed, what parking lots are full and how to enjoy the park safely, Rubeling said. 


Anyone who has been in the United Kingdom in the past 14 days should get tested for COVID-19, whether they're symptomatic or not, the Alberta government said Monday.

The announcement comes after Ottawa joined several European nations by halting flights from the U.K. on Sunday in an effort to prevent a new, potentially more contagious strain of the coronavirus from spreading to this country.

The province also said travellers from the UK who are participating in Alberta's border pilot rapid-test program must immediately quarantine, whether they've had a negative test or not.

Travellers will be contacted directly by Alberta Health Services to book a test. 


On Monday, a Calgary judge has rejected an emergency application seeking a stay of Alberta's COVID-19 public health restrictions, including bans on gatherings and mandatory masks.

Lawyers for the group of plaintiffs — including two southern Alberta churches and a Calgary gym owner — had argued the province's COVID-19 restrictions violate their constitutional rights.

In the application, Heights Baptist Church in Medicine Hat and Northside Baptist Church in Calgary, along with three individuals, argued that a number of their constitutional rights have been violated, including limiting peoples' ability to gather for both social and religious reasons, along with travelling and conducting business or expressing themselves. 

The Justice Centre accuses the government of "cancelling Christmas" and suggests COVID-19 has not created an emergency beyond the normal scope of illness and death in the province.

Justice Anne Kirker, in a decision issued Monday afternoon, said the risk of transmission of COVID-19 is real. She said she did not feel the public interest in granting the stay outweighed the public interest in maintaining the restrictions until the full hearing can take place. 


Partners at the Edmonton Convention Centre (ECC) are celebrating Christmas this year despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, CBC News reported Tuesday.

The temporary shelter at the ECC opened in late October. The centre has access to showers, laundry, ceremonial support for Indigenous peoples, regular meals and sleeping spots, among other support services.

Although holiday celebrations will look a bit different this year, there will special meals and gifts to mark the occasion. 

"[We'll have] a Christmas lunch service as well as a traditional turkey meal for the evening and volunteers will be handing out gifts to each participant that is on site and so that'll be a bag of essential items. Socks, mittens and additional things they might need, some baked goods donated by local bakeries," said Scarlet Bjornson, marketing and communications coordinator at Bissell Centre.


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:

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

  • Calgary zone: 6,470, down from 6,555 reported on Tuesday (29,722 recovered).
  • Edmonton zone: 8,427, down from 8,644 (31,475 recovered).
  • North zone: 1,092, down from 1,121 (5,089 recovered).
  • South zone: 390, down from 412 (4,392 recovered). 
  • Central zone: 1,391, down from 1,462 (4,242 recovered).
  • Unknown: 51, down from 117 (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:

Health Canada has approved Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine for use in this country, clearing the way for thousands of doses to arrive by month's end.

The federal department announced the approval on Wednesday after completing a review of the company's clinical trial data.

The Moderna vaccine was found to be 94.1 per cent effective, Health Canada said in a notice authorizing use of the vaccine.

"There were no important safety issues identified and no life-threatening adverse events (AEs) or deaths related to the vaccine," the notice said.

As of 6:45 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada's COVID-19 case count stood at 528,354, with 75,305 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 14,597.

Ontario on Tuesday reported 2,202 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 21 additional deaths. Hospitalizations increased to 1,005 with 273 people in intensive care unit beds, according to a provincial report

All of Ontario will move into a lockdown on Boxing Day in a bid to curb climbing COVID-19 case numbers and spare hospitals and their intensive care units from being inundated in January, Premier Doug Ford said Monday.

The lockdown will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 26 and remain in place until at least Jan. 23, 2021 in the 27 public health units that comprise southern Ontario. In the seven public health units in Ontario's north, where daily case numbers have been significantly lower, the lockdown is set to expire on Jan. 9, 2021.

Hard-hit Quebec, meanwhile, saw a record high daily case number Tuesday with 2,183 new cases of COVID-19. The province reported 28 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 7,794. 

Manitoba health officials are reporting 155 new COVID-19 cases and 18 deaths. The number of new cases continues to trend downward following restrictions that were imposed last month on public gatherings and business openings.

Health officials say intensive care units, however, are still running well above their normal capacity.

In Saskatchewan, where new restrictions took effect last Thursday, the province reported 252 new cases and eight more deaths on Saturday.

Under the new measures, which are in place until at least Jan. 15, residents can no longer have guests in their homes and outdoor socializing is capped at 10 people.

In British Columbia, health officials on Monday reported 41 additional deaths over a period of three days and 1,667 new cases. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that while case numbers seem to be levelling, they are still too high.

"We have to remember that people getting sick today were in contact with others days ago, and as much as two weeks ago."

In Atlantic Canada, new measures meant to prevent any possible surge of COVID-19 over the holiday period have started across Nova Scotia, which announced two new cases on Monday. Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases and announced that the province's active caseload has dipped to 28.

In Nunavut, three new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed since last Friday, all in Arviat, according to a government news release.

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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