Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Wednesday, Dec. 9
Alberta imposes tough new restrictions in bid to curb soaring COVID-19 infections
- Alberta health-care workers on the front lines will be the first in the province to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Starting next week, 3,900 doses will go to ICU doctors and nurses, respiratory therapists and long-term care workers in a bid to keep both the workers and those under their care safe.
- Albertans learned Tuesday about a raft of sweeping new restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, with most set to begin Sunday and sure to drastically rein in peoples' holiday-season festivities.
- Effective immediately, indoor and outdoor social gatherings are prohibited, Premier Jason Kenney announced. People who live alone are limited to up to two close contacts for in-person visits.
- Masks are now mandatory across the province in all indoor workplace and facilities outside the home. Until now, Alberta had been the only province without a mask mandate.
- Starting Sunday, 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 as of Sunday.
- Places of worship are limited to 15 per cent of fire code occupancy.
- Starting Sunday, all employees are required to work from home unless their employer determines they need to be at work in person.
- A full list of the new restrictions is available on the province's website.
- Alberta reported 1,460 new cases on Wednesday, for a total of 20,199 active cases. The province has an 8.9 per cent positivity rate and 13 more people have died, for a total of 653 deaths.
- There are 685 people in hospital, 121 in ICUs.
- The province's R-value, the number of people infected by each infected person, was 1.13 as of last week.
- Alberta will triple its small and medium enterprise grants to $20,000, while lowering the eligibility criteria to 30 per cent of revenues lost retroactive to March.
- Alberta's vaccine news comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday morning that several hundred thousand doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be available in Canada before the end of the year — shots primarily earmarked for long-term care home residents and the staffers working there.
- Military reservists are preparing for possible deployment in the Prairies as COVID-19 rates soar.
- As of Wednesday, Calgary had more than 7,400 active cases and Edmonton had more than 9,200.
- Alberta Health Services has changed its classroom isolation recommendations so that masked workers who were more than two metres from a person with COVID may not have to quarantine for 14 days like they currently do. But critics say it's unrealistic and some accuse the government of changing a best practise in order to keep schools open.
- The first president of Alberta Health Services, who wrote the report that's helped guide Australia to aim for zero COVID-19 cases, said that country's lockdown shows the economy and health don't need to be at odds. Stephen Duckett says the proposal, which called for a strict lockdown — "done once and done well" — was one of the road maps for the Australian state of Victoria's response, and it's worked. The state, which includes the city of Melbourne and has a 6.4 million population, hasn't seen a single new COVID case since the end of October, after seeing daily cases in the 700s over the summer.
- "The evidence is that there's no conflict between what's right for the economy, what's right for people's health … people in hospital don't spend money," Duckett says.
- An internal Alberta government document, obtained by CBC News, shows the province has been planning for more than a week to set up indoor field hospitals to treat 750 COVID patients.
What you need to know today in Alberta
Front-line health-care workers will receive the first 3,900 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine starting Dec. 16. The ICU doctors and nurses, respiratory therapists and long-term care staff will need to visit the vaccine delivery sites in Edmonton and Calgary to receive their first and second doses, which are given approximately one month apart.
"This early distribution is an important step in our continued fight against COVID-19 but we can't take our foot off the gas," Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Tuesday, adding that it will be months before the majority of the population can be immunized.
The news comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday morning that up to 249,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine would be available in Canada before the end of the year.
Alberta reported 1,460 new cases on Wednesday, for a total of 20,199 active cases. The province has an 8.9 per cent positivity rate. 13 more people have died, for a total of 653 deaths. There are 685 people in hospital, 121 in ICUs.
On Tuesday, Alberta announced the strictest restrictions of the entire pandemic in an effort to slow the surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the province.
"If you gathered everyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 together, it would be the fifth largest city in Alberta," said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health.
"Every case is a person … we are all at risk of COVID-19, we are all impacted by the toll it is taking on our health system."
Hinshaw said Wednesday it's important to follow the spirit of the restrictions if a situation is unclear, rather than working to find loopholes.
"If you are unsure about what to do, please err on the side of caution and make the safest choice," she said.
Effective immediately, indoor and outdoor social gatherings are prohibited. People who live alone are limited to up to two close contacts for in-person visits. Masks are now mandatory across the province in all indoor workplace and facilities outside the home. Until now, Alberta had been the only province without a mask mandate.
Other restrictions will begin Sunday and remain in place for four weeks — through Christmas and New Year's:
- 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.
Hinshaw said the target 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.
Kenney said it's with great reluctance Albertans are being asked to limit holiday gatherings to the members of their household, or to two close contacts for people who live by themselves.
"We simply cannot let this Christmas turn into a tragedy for many families," he said.
The rising cases are already impacting health-care availability — in Edmonton, 60 per cent of non-urgent surgeries that require a hospital stay are being postponed.
There were active alerts in 18 per cent of schools in the province, a total of 1,701 active cases.
Kenney is defending his government's rollout of the new restrictions, even though some medical experts have been calling for the province to implement such rules for several weeks.
Kenney repeatedly stressed Tuesday how difficult it was for him and his government to impose restrictions they knew would severely damage small businesses.
He also said Alberta's balanced response to the pandemic was among the best in the world.
"The instinct of some to shut everything down from the beginning would be devastating on the livelihoods of countless Albertans," Kenney said.
"Alberta, through most of the past nine months, had lower levels of confirmed cases of hospitalizations and COVID fatalities than the other large Canadian provinces, all of the U.S. states and almost all of the European countries, with generally less stringent restrictions."
Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said the premier should have acted a month ago when doctors had called for a lockdown, to prevent unnecessary deaths and hospitalizations.
"The premier acted like he didn't have a choice. But let's be clear, he had many choices, many opportunities, to act decisively," she said.
"Now, all of us are staring down the barrel of the most restrictive Christmas we could have imagined … instead of getting an appropriate public health response a month ago, what Albertans got was a premier who rejected public health advice, who delivered lectures on comorbidities … who pandered to anti-maskers, jeopardized our health-care resources."
Alberta is expanding its small and medium business relaunch grant, to make up to 15,000 more businesses eligible for funding. Businesses can now receive 15 per cent of pre-pandemic monthly revenues up to a maximum of $15,000.
The program is also lowering its threshold from businesses who experienced 40 per cent revenue loss to 30 per cent revenue loss, retroactive to March.
Additional business supports are available through the federal government.
The Canadian military is preparing for possible deployment of troops in the Prairie provinces, potentially as early as Saturday in Alberta, to assist with their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, CBC News has learned.
All of the army divisions and joint task forces across the country were asked earlier this fall to check how many part-time soldiers would be available for duty so as to have 300 reserve soldiers in each area, a senior defence source said.
Late last week, the military expanded the call in anticipation of troops helping out with vaccine distribution, although no numbers have yet been attached to the new round, the source said.
There has been a special focus on calling up reservists in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in case there is a call for assistance from those provinces, which now have among the worst COVID-19 infection rates in Canada.
A Hub online school teacher with the Calgary Board of Education says her day-to-day working conditions inside her school are adding to the already stressful job of teaching virtually.
The elementary school teacher, whom CBC News has agreed not to name as she fears professional retribution, said she and other Hub teachers are, for the most part, still being required to come into their schools to work.
"What we thought we would be doing was working in our own classrooms. But it ended up that we were put in smaller classrooms that were kind of closer to each other," she said.
Since school started, she said, she's been sharing a room with two other Hub teachers using cardboard tri-folds to separate themselves.
With 18 per cent of the province's schools on COVID alert or outbreak status, Alberta Health Services is changing its classroom isolation requirements so contact tracers will now assess school staff exposures on a case-by-case basis.
Previously, contact tracers said anyone who had been in a classroom with an infectious person was considered a close contact and required to quarantine for 14 days.
Now, teachers or school employees who were within two metres of the infectious person for less than 15 minutes while wearing a mask, and practising good hand hygiene, may not be considered a close contact.
Any students who were in class with an infected person for more than 15 minutes total will still have to quarantine for 14 days.
Alberta Teachers' Association president Jason Schilling said the new distinctions may be impractical and impossible for teachers to make, given how much people move around inside schools and classrooms.
Furthermore, with the Alberta government's contact tracers overwhelmed and unable to keep up with all school-related cases, Schilling wonders how they will assess staff members on a case-by-case basis.
"This [policy change] has the whiff of panic to me," said Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Alberta president Rory Gill. "Which is, we're not going to be able to keep these schools open if we abide by the best practise, so we're going to change that practice."
The first president of Alberta Health Services says Australia's strict lockdown shows it's possible to reach zero COVID-19 cases.
Stephen Duckett is health program director for the Australian Grattan Institute, a non-profit think tank, and one of the co-authors of the institute's Go For Zero report — a policy proposal with the goal of driving Australia's active COVID-19 cases to zero.
The proposal, which called for a strict lockdown — "done once and done well" — was one of the road maps for the Australian state of Victoria's response, and it's worked. The state, which includes the city of Melbourne and has a 6.4 million population, hasn't seen a single new COVID case since the end of October, after seeing daily cases in the 700s over the summer.
When the oilpatch was sideswiped by the pandemic and an international oil price war, a warning went out that the industry had been pushed onto "life support" as crude prices and company share values both plummeted.
Ottawa rolled out a variety of funding programs economy wide — and some specifically for the oilpatch — in an attempt to get dollars flowing to the struggling sector and limit the damage.
Now, in the months since the programs have been introduced, there's a clearer picture of where and how the programs are working, with billions of dollars of support finding their way to the industry just as higher crude prices have also brought some stability.
The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) has been particularly popular.
A snapshot of data analyzed by CBC News shows 23 publicly traded companies identified in the oilfield services sector, as well as drillers, have received more than $140 million, pre-tax, in CEWS funding, between them, including more than $23 million to ClearStream Energy Services and $16 million to Precision Drilling.
A pair of southern Alberta churches and three individuals have launched a court challenge, arguing that the province's COVID-19 restrictions are an infringement of their constitutional rights.
The application was filed in the Court of Queen's Bench in Calgary on Friday, the same day that Alberta recorded 15 additional deaths, and a record high test positivity rate of 10.5 per cent.
"The vast majority of all the restrictions in the public health orders do violate one or more constitutional rights. So, yes, our clients want to see them all removed," said James Kitchen with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, one of the lawyers representing the applicants.
His clients are seeking to have a court declare that the various public health orders can't be enforced. He said there needs to be a strong reason for limiting people's liberties, and contends that there isn't one in this case.
One of the largest operators of Canadian seniors' residences and long-term care homes is calling for provinces to adopt widespread surveillance testing as part of an internal review set to be released on Monday.
The review for Revera was chaired by Dr. Bob Bell, former deputy health minister in Ontario and a former hospital CEO. Bell said Ontario has adopted surveillance testing and has since been able to protect long-term care residents more effectively.
It has yet to be adopted elsewhere in Canada, where thousands of COVID-19 deaths have been reported at care homes.
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: 7,490, down from 7,529 on Tuesday (21,785 recovered).
- Edmonton zone: 9,289, down from 9,383 (21,008 recovered).
- North zone: 1,213, up from 1,212 (3,600 recovered).
- South zone: 633, down from 646 (3,656 recovered).
- Central zone: 1,500 down from 1,526 (2,457 recovered).
- Unknown: 74, down from 236 (130 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 9 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada's COVID-19 case count stood at 429,035, with 71,968 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC's reporting stood at 12,867.
Health Canada regulators have given the green light to Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, a key step toward launching the biggest inoculation program in Canada's history.
The department announced the approval Wednesday. Public health and government officials will hold a briefing to discuss details of the vaccine rollout plan at 1 p.m. ET in Ottawa.
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that several hundred thousand doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will be available in Canada before the end of the year — shots primarily earmarked for long-term care home residents and the staff working there.
British Columbia reported 566 new cases and 16 more deaths on Tuesday. Hospitalizations rose to 352, the province's highest point since the start of the pandemic.
Saskatchewan reported 183 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, and six more deaths, the highest single-day increase in the province's death toll since the pandemic began.
Five of the people who died were in their 80s and the sixth was in their 30s.
Saskatchewan now has 406 active cases per 100,000, which is the second-highest in the country, behind only Alberta's 459 per 100,000.
Manitoba on Tuesday extended sweeping COVID restrictions into the new year, which means holiday gatherings won't be allowed. At the same time, officials added a number of exemptions to the provincial health order, including lifting a ban on drive-in church services, which some churches have flouted recently.
As well, thrift stores will be allowed to open and sell non-essential items, and acupuncture and osteopathy services will be permitted. The announcement came as the province reported 245 new cases, 13 more deaths and a test positivity rate of 13.3 per cent.
Ontario on Tuesday reported 1,676 new cases of COVID and 10 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 3,808.
As of Tuesday, the province reported having 794 COVID patients in hospital, with 219 in intensive care units.
Quebec on Tuesday reported 1,564 new cases and 36 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 7,313.
Hospitalizations increased to 835, with 114 people in intensive care units, according to provincial data.
In Atlantic Canada, Prince Edward Island reported no new cases on Tuesday, leaving the number of cases in the province at 84. P.E.I. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison announced four additional cases on Monday, all individuals in their 20s and 30s.
Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case on Tuesday. Premier Andrew Furey said on Monday the province would not be rejoining the so-called Atlantic bubble for at least the next month. That means all visitors to the province will be required to self-isolate for 14 days whether they're from Atlantic Canada or not.
New Brunswick reported five new cases on Tuesday, four of which are in the Fredericton region.
Nova Scotia reported seven new cases on Tuesday, including one at a Dartmouth school.
Across the North, Yukon reported one new case of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases in the province to 58 — with 10 of those considered active.
Nunavut health officials reported one new case on Tuesday, in the community of Arviat.
There were no new cases reported Monday or Tuesday in the Northwest Territories.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that several hundred thousand doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will be available in Canada before the end of the year — shots that are primarily destined for long-term care home residents and the staff that work there.
Trudeau said up to 249,000 doses of the two-dose vaccine will be on hand by years' end, the start of a mass inoculation campaign that is expected to take many months to complete.
The announcement comes a day after Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, confirmed to CBC News that the drug companies are prepared to ship vaccine doses to Canada within 24 hours of regulatory approval.
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.
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.