Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Saturday, Jan. 2

Siksika Nation began immunizing staff and residents at the Siksika Elders Lodge on Friday, while Alberta Premier Jason Kenney took responsibility for not being clear about travel rules for members of the legislative assembly at a press conference after vacations were revealed.

Alberta records 900 new cases of COVID-19 on New Year's Day as Kenney takes responsibility for MLA travel

After news of Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard's Hawaii vacation was revealed, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney took responsibility for not being clear about travel rules for members of the legislative assembly at a press conference on Friday. (CBC)

The latest:

  • An estimated 900 new cases of COVID-19 were reported on New Year's Day in Alberta.
  • Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, tweeted Saturday that 12,700 laboratory tests had been recorded on Jan. 1 with a seven per cent positivity rate.
  • Siksika Nation received its first shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, and began immunizing staff and residents at the Siksika Elders Lodge on Friday. 
  • After news of Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard's Hawaii vacation was revealed, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney took responsibility for not being clear about travel rules for members of the legislative assembly at a press conference on Friday.
  • By 2 p.m. MT on Saturday, a total of five UCP MLAs were confirmed to have left Canada for holiday vacations — Lesser Slake Lake MLA Pat Rehn, Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan, Calgary-Peigan MLA Tanya Fir, Calgary-Klein MLA Jeremy Nixon, and Minister Allard.
Municipal Affairs Mininster Tracy Allard announcing the COVID teams program on Dec. 15. (Paul Taillon/Office of the Premier)
  • A more complete COVID-19 update is next expected from the Alberta government on Jan. 4.
  • Albertans were told before the holidays to expect Twitter updates each day until Jan. 3. 
  • On Jan. 4, the province is expected to post more complete updates online.
  • Hinshaw is scheduled to hold her next news conference on Jan. 5.
  • In spite of the pandemic's crippling effect on many local businesses, the City of Edmonton said it gave out 4,736 new business licenses between March 1 and Nov. 30 in 2020.
  • 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.
  • 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 Saturday, saying there are roughly 900 new cases of the virus in the province, based on 12,700 tests, for a positivity rate of seven per cent.

Hinshaw's next live update is scheduled for 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 as per the latest update on 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

The first immunizations were distributed at Siksika First Nation on Friday after the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine arrived on the reserve on Dec. 31.

The nation's first dose went to its oldest resident, Virginia Medicine Traveller, 94, Siksika Health Services said on Facebook.

Health workers on the First Nation, which is about 100 kilometres east of Calgary, announced on New Year's Eve that they would begin immunizing residents and staff at the Siksika Elders Lodge on Friday at 1 p.m.

The care facility for Siksika elders was among those prioritized by the province to receive the vaccine as it provides continuing care for seniors.

"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, was quoted as saying in a press release.

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

Calgary-Peigan MLA Tanya Fir, left, said on social media Friday night that she had also recently been to the United States visiting her sister. CBC News confirmed on Friday that Calgary-Klein MLA Jeremy Nixon, right, was also in Hawaii over the holidays. (UCP)

The total number of UCP MLAs confirmed to have left Canada for holiday vacations abroad has increased to five by Saturday afternoon.

On Friday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney held a press conference and ordered MLAs not to leave the country unless it's for government business after news that Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard had travelled to Hawaii for vacation.

Allard apologized, calling the trip a "lapse in judgment." 

CBC News then confirmed that Calgary-Klein MLA Jeremy Nixon was also in Hawaii over the holidays. It is not clear when he left or whether he has returned.

Calgary-Peigan MLA Tanya Fir said on social media Friday night that she had recently been to the United States visiting her sister. In a Facebook post, she said that she has since returned and will abide by the new travel directive.

Pat Rehn, the MLA for Lesser Slave Lake, posted a statement on Facebook Saturday confirming he is on his way back to Alberta from a trip to Mexico.

Jason Stephan, MLA for Red Deer-South, is also returning from a trip abroad, Kenney's press secretary Christine Myatt confirmed by email Saturday.

"MLA Stephan travelled to the United States and has indicated that he is returning to Alberta in line with the Premier's directive," she said.

 To limit the spread of COVID-19, the Alberta government advises against non-essential travel on its travel restrictions page.

Ran Huget and Elisa Zenari, co-owners of Dalla Zenari in the Kelly Building downtown, opened Dec. 1, two weeks before the latest shutdown which includes in-house dining. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Entrepreneurs in Edmonton have found a way to open new businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic — thousands of them — despite the toll the pandemic has had on the economy and the restrictions faced in many industries. 

A range of new businesses have opened since February, from tattoo studios to online marketing companies, as well as cafes and restaurants. 

The City of Edmonton said it gave out 4,736 new business licenses between March 1 and Nov. 30 in 2020.

It's difficult to say whether all of these were first-time applicants, as the city doesn't collect that information, a spokesperson told CBC News in an email. 

A total of 23,462 business licenses in Edmonton, including renewals, were approved in the same timeframe.

Although food establishments make up a large number of visible new businesses in Edmonton, a range of industries had new startups.

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:

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/Facebook)

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.  

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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