Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Thursday, Dec. 31

An estimated 1,200 new COVID-19 cases have been confirmed, Alberta officials said Thursday in a scaled-down update, while Alberta becomes the first province to officially say the NHL can play games in its arenas for the upcoming season and long-term care home residents start to get vaccinated.

Alberta tops 100,000 total cases since start of pandemic

Sheila Veeder, 63, a resident of the Riverview Care Centre in Medicine Hat, on Wednesday became the first long-term care resident in Alberta to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. (Alberta Health Services)

The latest:

  • Siksika Nation has received its first shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, and will begin immunizing staff and residents at the Siksika Elders Lodge on Friday. 
  • CBC News has learned that Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard spent time this month in Hawaii on a family vacation, despite direction from both the federal and provincial governments to avoid non-essential travel during the pandemic.
  • Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, tweeted Thursday that 11,102 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Alberta as of Wednesday, although she didn't say how many were people who had received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that requires two doses to be effective. That falls far short of the 29,000 health-care workers that, only two weeks earlier, Premier Jason Kenney's government pledged to vaccinate by the end of December.
  • Residents and staff of long-term care facilities in Alberta began to be vaccinated on Wednesday, with a 63-year-old Medicine Hat woman became the first long-term care resident in the province to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
  • The first shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Alberta on Tuesday. Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the Moderna vaccine does not require ultra-cold storage and therefore can be offered more easily to residents at continuing care facilities. The government said the initial 16,900 doses of the vaccine would be sent to long-term care facilities in Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Grande Prairie, St. Paul and Fort Saskatchewan, 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 Métis communities. 
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)
  • A health-care aide at an extended care facility in Red Deer, Alta., has been charged under the Federal Quarantine Act after allegedly failing to isolate after a trip to the United States.
  • On Thursday, Alberta became the first province to officially say the NHL can play games in its arenas for the upcoming season.
  • New rules requiring air travellers to test negative for COVID-19 before entering Canada will kick in on Jan. 7, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Thursday.
  • 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.
  • Hinshaw tweeted a "preliminary" update Thursday morning, saying an estimated 1,200 new COVID-19 cases have been confirmed out of 16,900 lab tests on Wednesday, making for a positivity rate of seven per cent.
  • She said hospitalizations were "increasing" while intensive-care bed usage was "stable," but did not give numbers of total active cases, hospitalizations, ICU use or new deaths.
  • As of Wednesday's more fulsome update, there were are 769 people in non-ICU hospital care, plus another 152 in intensive care — for a total of 921 that had been steady for two days.
  • Alberta had 14,555 active COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday's update — down from 14,828 the previous day. That total has been slowly declining since Dec. 13, when the number peaked at 21,112.
  • Alberta's total case count topped 100,000 on Wednesday as the province reported 18 more deaths for a total of 1,046 deaths. The average number of deaths per day has been trending sharply down since Dec. 27.
  • However, it took nearly nine months for Alberta to record its first 500 deaths; the next 500 came in just 34 days. Check out how it happened in this analysis.

More detail on what you need to know today in Alberta

Dr. Deena Hinshaw tweeted the latest estimated COVID-19 numbers on Thursday, saying there are roughly 1,200 new cases of the virus in the province, based on 16,900 tests, for a positivity rate of seven per cent. While Hinshaw did not provide exact numbers, she said hospitalizations are increasing and the number of people being treated in ICU is stable.

Another preliminary update will be provided on Jan 1. Hinshaw's next live update is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 5.

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

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. 

As of Wednesday, there were 921 people in hospital, including 152 in intensive care, and another 18 people had died for a total of 1,046 deaths.

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

Siksika Nation has received its first shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, and will begin immunizing residents and staff at the Siksika Elders Lodge on Jan. 1 at 1 p.m.

"We are pleased to see that a safe and effective vaccine has been developed so  quickly and made available to our most vulnerable Nation members and their care providers," Nioksskaistamik Ouray Crowfoot, Chief of Siksika First Nation, said in a news release on Thursday. 

"Our health services continue to plan for a staged roll-out of additional vaccine to other priority groups in the near future."

Elias Lindholm #28 of the Calgary Flames scores a goal on Mike Smith #41 of the Edmonton Oilers during the second period in an exhibition game on July 28. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Alberta is the first province to officially say the NHL can play games in its arenas for the upcoming season.

In a statement to The Canadian Press on Thursday, the Alberta government said it approved Edmonton and Calgary for competition on Dec. 25 following the review of protocols outlined in the league's return-to-play plan, along with some additional enhancements.

That confirmation is the first from any of the five provinces with NHL teams since deputy commissioner Bill Daly stated on Dec. 24 that the league believes it can play games in all seven Canadian markets.

The Canadian teams will only play each other during the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs as part of a newly formed North Division, and won't be crossing the border with the United States, which remains closed to non-essential travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Wednesday, 11,102 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Alberta, Hinshaw tweeted Thursday, although she didn't say how many were people who had received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that requires two doses to be effective.

Kenney had estimated Tuesday that 7,000 Albertans would have been vaccinated by the end of day, far short of the government's pledge to vaccinate 29,000 health-care workers by the end of December.

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

How did things go so wrong, so quickly in Alberta? It's all about exponential growth, notes CBC investigative journalist Robson Fletcher. 

Early on in 2020, Alberta was getting accustomed to looking across the country and feeling pride in its successful pandemic response, but now the province finds itself in uncharted territory. After keeping the disease relatively at bay for months, deferred decisions late in the year led to an unprecedented amount of illness and death.

In the spring, the province boasted about its low hospitalization rate, its nation-leading testing and how it had quadrupled its ranks of contact tracers.

Come winter, Alberta had the highest hospitalization rate in the country and test-positivity rates that were nearing 10 per cent. Thousands of people were told to do their own contact tracing after the provincial system was overwhelmed.

Medical experts and mathematicians tried to sound the alarm nearly two months ago about the trajectory the province was on. But the government was reluctant to impose new restrictions on Albertans' liberties and economic activity. It rebuffed repeated calls for stricter public-health measures — for a time.

Meanwhile, the exponential growth continued unabated, with the number of new daily cases doubling every two to three weeks. Whether in response to the physicians' warnings, or the fact that new case numbers were approaching the psychological barrier of 2,000 per day, the government eventually did act.

But by that time, the hospitalizations and deaths the province is now experiencing had been essentially baked in. Daily case counts have mercifully started to ebb, but the glut of disease that built up weeks ago is still filling more hospital beds and claiming more lives than Alberta has seen at any other point in the pandemic.

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

In a year of cancelled plans and postponed events,a Calgary couple decided to keep their wedding date despite COVID-19 restrictions by making it a drive-in event. 

After a year and a half of wedding planning, Chris Hibberd and Anistasia Mechefske were supposed to be married in front of 150 guests on Wednesday.

Newlyweds Anistasia Mechefske and Chris Hibberd, pictured left, emerge from their wedding venue Flores & Pine in Bearspaw as guests applaud from the parking lot, pictured right. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Unfortunately for the couple, the pandemic threatened to derail their plans, but they eventually decided to get married anyway — and still found a way to include family and friends.

Hibberd and Mechefske were married in a masked 10-person ceremony at Flores & Pine restaurant in Bearspaw on Wednesday — while 28 cars full of wedding guests caught the ceremony on Zoom in the parking lot outside and drove away with a special treat.

Attendance was up at this year's Stampede, but didn't break through the all-time record from 2012. (John Gibson/CBC)

After a disastrous 2020, the Calgary Stampede is touting the slogan "we'll ride again." But there are still plenty of unknowns.

Just like the rest of the world, the organization was figuratively bucked off and stomped by a virus in 2020.

The president of the Calgary Stampede and chairman of its board of directors, Dana Peers, said talks with the federal and provincial governments on a financial aid package have not reached any conclusions.

"They recognize certainly that we're a unique organization. To date, there hasn't really been any assistance programs that fit the Calgary Stampede and I really don't know where those conversations will go in the future."

(Kennedy Amyotte/Facebook)

Going through a pregnancy during the isolation of the pandemic has been emotionally and physically exhausting for many Alberta women.

And nearly 10 months after Alberta's first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed, mothers across the province are giving birth to what some have dubbed the coronial generation.

Kennedy Amyotte's first-born child will open her eyes to the world and see her mother's face behind a mask.

For Amyotte, pregnancy during the isolation of the pandemic has been emotionally and physically exhausting. She spent weeks in quarantine following a COVID-19 diagnosis last month and wonders how she and her husband, Shane Flamond, will navigate parenthood in the uncertain months ahead.

Amyotte expects to tell her daughter about it someday, years down the road.  

Alberta Health Services ordered a restaurant to close to in-person dining last week after an inspector reported finding people from different households sitting near each other, enjoying a self-service buffet and alcohol.

But the manager of Little Tavern Pizza Project, in the southwest Calgary neighbourhood of Strathcona Park, says it was actually a staff meeting. 

"We never offered dine-in service to anyone from the 13th on," said Keith Luce. 

The province had ordered restaurants and pubs to close their dining rooms on Dec. 13, in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Alberta. 

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)

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.

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."

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

At the start of 2020, 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.

  • For the latest on what's happening in the rest of Canada and around the world on Thursday, see here.


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