Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Wednesday, Dec. 30

The province will fall well short of the UCP government’s goal of vaccinating 29,000 people against COVID-19 by the end of the year, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has acknowledged, as another 1,287 new cases were reported, for a total of 14,555 active cases.

More than 100,000 Albertans have now tested positive

Mario Saraceni, 73, becomes the first long-term care resident in Calgary to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Mayfair Care Centre on Dec. 30, 2020. (Alberta Health Services)

The latest:

  • More than 100,000 Albertans have now tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Another 1,287 people tested positive on Wednesday, for 14,555 active cases and a total of 100,428 cases during the pandemic. 
  • The positivity rate is 8.7 per cent
  • Hospitalizations continue to increase. There are 921 people in hospital, 152 in intensive care, and another 18 have died for a total of 1,046 deaths.
  • Alberta will miss its goal of vaccinating 29,000 people by the end of the year, as it was on track to vaccinate just 7,000 by end of day Tuesday, the premier admits.
  • Jason Kenney said Tuesday that Alberta Health Services had been holding back some vaccines for a second dose but will now move forward to vaccinate as many people as possible to catch up. However, in mid-December, Health Minister Tyler Shandro had said no doses would be withheld.
  • Retired nurses and student nurses will also be brought in to help speed up the rate of vaccinations.
  • 16,900 doses of the Moderna vaccine have now arrived in Alberta and the first dose was given to a resident of the Riverview Care Centre in Medicine Hat on Wednesday. Premier Jason Kenney tweeted a picture of the shot being administered.
  • Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the Moderna shots do not need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, so they can more easily be delivered to long-term care facilities. 
  • Case numbers have been decreasing, in part due to fewer tests completed over the holidays, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Monday, but the positivity rate and hospitalizations have remained high. 
    • Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, will next speak on Jan. 5, and online case numbers will be updated next Monday.
    • The first case of the COVID-19 variant first identified in the U.K. has arrived in Alberta. Hinshaw said the case is linked to a person who recently arrived from the U.K., and that the person is currently in isolation. 
    • The 2020 tax season will look different for many Albertans, financial experts say.  For many, the pandemic changed their job situation, the source of their income and introduced unexpected expenses like medical or childcare. 
    • 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 on Dec. 21. 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.
    • Parks Canada is asking hikers and skiers heading to the trails and hills to plan ahead, as COVID restrictions may force plans to shift, especially during the winter holidays.

    What you need to know today in Alberta

    More than 100,000 Albertans have tested positive for COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic. 

    Another 1,287 people tested positive on Wednesday, for 14,555 active cases and a total of 100,428 cases during the pandemic. The positivity rate is 8.7 per cent.

    Dr. Deena Hinshaw said earlier in the week that declining case numbers are in part due to fewer tests, and hospitalizations and the positivity rate have remained high. 

    There are 921 people in hospital, 152 in intensive care, and another 18 have died for a total of 1,046 deaths.

    Alberta will not meet its goal to vaccinate 29,000 people by the end of 2020, government officials acknowledged on Tuesday. 

    The province is on track to vaccinate 7,000 people by end-of-day Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney said, with about 4,000 more vaccinations expected to take place over the next few days. 

    But that's well short of the original promise of 29,000.

    Kenney said that Alberta Health Services (AHS) had been holding back some vaccines for a second dose but will now move forward to vaccinate as many people as possible to catch up, including scheduling vaccinations on New Year's Day. Retired nurses and student nurses will also be brought in to help speed up the rate of vaccinations.

    However, in mid-December, Health Minister Tyler Shandro had said no doses would be withheld.

    Alberta has now received 16,900 doses of the Moderna vaccine. Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the Moderna vaccine does not require ultra-cold storage. That means it can be offered more easily to residents at continuing care facilities. It will be delivered to sites in Calgary, St. Paul, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Grande Prairie, Red Deer and Edmonton, as well as six on-reserve First Nation living facilities. 

    After residents and staff of long-term care and supportive living facilities, immunization will focus on seniors age 75 and over, and residents age 65 and over of First Nations and Metis communities. 

    Katalin Lang is one of the countless Albertans who are trying to keep their loved ones' memories alive by reminding people to think about the deceased victims of COVID-19 and those they left behind.

    She and her mother, dressed in full personal protective equipment, had to say their final words to her father, Jozsef Lang, 88, through protective masks before he died at the end of November, days after contracting COVID-19 while living at Clifton Manor nursing home in Calgary. 

    "I think that it just struck me that everybody was fixated on numbers and they still are," Lang said from her home in Medicine Hat.

    "And I understand it in a way, because it allows you to be emotionally detached. I just wanted it to be clear, that for every number there is emotion attached, there are memories attached. There are families attached. There is grief attached. They lived full lives and their loss is deeply, deeply felt." 

    Remembering some of the Albertans who have been identified as killed by COVID-19:

    Kenney said Tuesday it's important to continue to follow public health restrictions, especially with New Year's Eve on the horizon.

    "I am concerned, to be blunt, about what we might see coming out of Christmas," he said. 

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    Alberta has now reported its first case of a COVID-19 variant, linked to a traveller from the U.K. who is in isolation.

    "We are working with the Public Health Agency of Canada to be able to get the flight details and the list of individuals who were on the same plane. There's a time delay between when that individual arrived and when the symptoms began, and so it's something that's a theoretical possibility of transmission, so we are going to be following up specifically with individuals who were seated in close rows," Hinshaw said on Monday.

    "But again, at the moment, we have looked at the situation and believe that the risk is very low, but we will be making those phone calls to make sure that we are providing that additional information to anyone who may have been seated near this individual on the flight."

    The new variant is believed to spread more easily and faster than the original version of the virus, based on modelling and some epidemiological data, but it is not believed to be more deadly.

    Calgary tutors say they have had to adjust and adapt to the realities of the year, like everyone else during the pandemic. But after seeing a plunge in business last spring, local tutors say student numbers are slowly increasing to normal levels. 

    Alex Azarnousch, owner and founder of the nearly 20-year-old Calgary Tutoring Centre, says his tutors work with nearly 600 students in a normal year. 

    But last spring, those numbers took a nosedive as classes moved online and school boards made the decision that no grades would drop as a result of the sudden change.

    "It was extremely slow for the months of April, May and June," he said. "COVID really hit everybody hard. I wasn't even sure if my business would stay alive, to tell you the truth. But things did turn around in September, thank God."

    Azarnousch says the Calgary Tutoring Centre is now providing services to about 350 students. 

    "Online tutoring was never really established here in Alberta because everyone wanted to have in-home tutoring," he said. "It did take a little bit of time until they were OK with online tutoring, and now it's been pretty good."

    The winter holidays are usually the busiest season for air travel. But this year, about 80 per cent fewer travellers will pass through the doors of the Calgary International Airport in late December, according to the airport authority's spokesperson.

    About 50,000 travellers take off from or land at Calgary International Airport per day during the holiday season in an average year, said Reid Feist, spokesperson for the Calgary Airport Authority.

    But this year, the holidays fall amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many jurisdictions have discouraged all non-essential to prevent further spread of the illness. As a result, the airport authority predicted that only about 10,000 travellers would go through the Calgary airport "for the period before Christmas all the way through New Year's," said Feist.

    "For those who have to travel for essential travel reasons, the airport remains open. And of course, our focus is on everyone's safety as they move through the airport or arrive at the airport," he said.

    The Calgary airport is facing a $67-million deficit this year thanks to the unprecedented drop in demand for air travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    A passenger sits at the Calgary Airport on Oct. 30 amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. As of Thursday, the province said 14,382 travellers had taken tests in a pilot project for international travellers at the Calgary airport. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

    Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews says the goal in 2021 is to get vaccines out and put the COVID-19 pandemic in the rear-view mirror, then work to fix a battered and beleaguered economy.

    But with a $21-billion deficit and Alberta's oil and gas economy still in flux, where's the money going to come from?

    "We will not cut our way out of a $21-billion deficit," Toews said in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press. "We have to get the economy growing again. And economic recovery will very quickly become job No. 1 as we start to get past the pandemic."

    At the start of 2020, Premier Jason Kenney's United Conservative government was busy trying to resuscitate an already suffering economy only to see COVID-19 blow everything apart and take with it Kenney's key election promise to balance the deficit in his first term.

    That goal is now a distant memory with a projected budget deficit this year tripling an original forecast of $6.8 billion. COVID-19 has slashed demand for energy, shuttered businesses and necessitated relief aid and job supports to keep people going.

    Finance Minister Travis Toews said economic recovery will be a top priority for the province in 2021 after pandemic recovery. (Trevor Wilson/CBC )

    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."

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    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. 

    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 detailed regional breakdown of active cases updated as of Wednesday.

    • Calgary zone: 5,129, down from 5,244 reported on Tuesday (33,152 recovered).
    • Edmonton zone: 6,624, down from 6,701 (36,165 recovered).
    • North zone: 1,031, down from 1,034 (5,752 recovered).
    • South zone: 296, down from 302 (4,629 recovered). 
    • Central zone: 1,430 down from 1,466 (4,995 recovered).
    • Unknown: 45, up from 38 (134 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:

    Air passengers entering Canada will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within three days of arriving in the country, the federal government announced today.

    Travellers must receive a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test before they'll be permitted to board a plane — a requirement Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said will be in place "quickly," though he did not provide an exact date.

    The measure does not replace the federal government's mandatory 14-day quarantine period, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair warned.

    "This is not an alternative to quarantine. It's an additional layer," Blair said during a public health briefing.

    As of 1:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada's COVID-19 case count stood at 571,069 with 73,419 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 15,438.

    Ontario's finance minister is under fire after it emerged he travelled to the Caribbean for a vacation over the holiday season. Rod Phillips said in a statement Tuesday night that he left for a trip to St. Barts on Dec. 13 after the end of the legislative session.

    Ontario, which went into lockdown on Dec. 26, is advising against non-essential travel. 

    Premier Doug Ford said in a statement that he told Phillips his decision to travel was "completely unacceptable and that it will not be tolerated again — by him or any member of our cabinet and caucus."

    The province also reported 2,923 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, another single-day high in the province. 

    Health officials in Ontario also reported 19 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 4,474. Hospitalizations increased to 1,177, with 323 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.

    Quebec reported 41 additional deaths on Wednesday, bringing the provincial death toll to 8,165.

    According to a provincial dashboard, hospitalizations in Quebec stood at 1,211 with 152 COVID-19 patients in ICUs.

    In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick added one new case; Prince Edward Island announced two, both travel-related; two Canadian Coast Guard vessels are docked in Dartmouth, N.S., after crews were exposed to people who tested positive; and Newfoundland and Labrador's active caseload remains at 18 after reporting no new infections.

    In the North, the first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Nunavut on Wednesday, on a scheduled Canadian North flight, though it will be another week before the territory announces details on how they will be distributed. 

    Manitoba health officials announced 133 new cases and five additional deaths on Tuesday, while Saskatchewan reported 208 new COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths in the province since Sunday.

    British Columbia Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 2,206 cases in the province since Christmas Eve, along with 74 deaths during that period.

    Self-assessment and supports:

    With winter cold and influenza season upon us, 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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