Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Friday, Jan. 8
Dr. Hinshaw will allow doctors, nurses and pharmacists to deliver COVID-19 vaccine
- Alberta is reporting its first case of the coronavirus variant first discovered in South Africa. Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, tweeted Friday that the case involved a recent traveller.
- Dedicated COVID-19 wards have been added to the vaccine priority list, meaning that, starting immediately, vaccine appointments will be offered to those health-care workers.
- Alberta reported 24 more deaths on Friday and 1,183 new cases of COVID-19, with a total of 13,628 active cases, increasing from 13,298 reported Thursday.
- Across the province, 851 patients are being treated in hospitals for the illness, including 135 in ICU beds.
- Dr. Hinshaw will provide her next live update on Monday.
- As of Thursday, 37,686 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in Alberta.
- Premier Jason Kenney announced Thursday that COVID-19 restrictions will remain in effect for at least another two weeks.
- Students are set to return to in-person classes on Jan. 11, as the government planned before the holiday season.
- Doctors say the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre is under tremendous strain — 17 of its 18 current ICU beds are filled by COVID-19 patients.
- Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Thursday that an Alberta physician has died of COVID-19, the third known death of a health-care worker in the province.
- More than 200 doctors have signed an open letter calling on the province to prioritize the vaccination of all health-care workers caring for patients in Alberta's dedicated COVID-19 wards.
- WestJet is cutting jobs and slashing its flight capacity by a third because of what the airline calls "instability in the face of continuing federal government travel advisories and restrictions."
- Ninety-eight tickets have been issued for failure to wear a face covering since Calgary's face coverings bylaw went into effect in August, the city announced in a Thursday press release.
- The total number of tickets issued since the local state of emergency was declared in November under the Public Health Act is 111.
- Meanwhile, peace officers in Edmonton said they have issued 98 tickets and 1,200 warnings related to masks between Dec. 10 and Jan. 4.
- From Dec. 10 to Jan. 4, Edmonton officers also issued nine tickets for provincial Public Health Act infractions.
- The combination of new federal travel rules and a Calgary airport testing program means people taking advantage of that pilot project will now need three COVID-19 tests to arrive in Canada and exit quarantine early.
- Under the new federal rules, as of Thursday, anyone older than five entering Canada will be required to show proof of a negative test — taken within 72 hours before the flight — before being allowed to board the plane.
- The government is defending its COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan after calls for more transparency about its process for distributing the shots.
- Premier Jason Kenney's government faces continued fire from a public outraged over the international travel through the holiday season of a UCP cabinet minister, MLAs and key staff despite months of warnings from his and various other levels of government for the public to avoid any non-essential travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Here are more of the latest Alberta COVID-19 stories:
- Alberta reports what could be Canada's first case of coronavirus variant first found in South Africa
- Compared to pre-pandemic employment, Alberta lags every province but Manitoba
- Red Deer hospital ICU overflows as it faces wave of patients with COVID-19
- Doctor from Calgary zone latest health-care worker to die from COVID-19
- Premier Jason Kenney suggests widespread COVID-19 restrictions may not be lifted next week
- Travellers put to the test with requirement to prove they're COVID-free before coming home
- Critics call on province for more transparency around Alberta's vaccination plan
- All workers on COVID-19 wards need vaccine now, Alberta doctors tell health minister in open letter
- ANALYSIS | With pandemic travel scandal, Kenney faces conservative kryptonite: elitism
- OPINION | Done with the political turkeys after the holidays, Jen Gerson writes
More detail on what you need to know today in Alberta
Alberta is reporting its first case of the coronavirus variant first discovered in South Africa.
Chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, tweeted the news on Friday.
"This case involved a recent traveller. The individual is in quarantine & there's no evidence at this time that the virus has spread to others."
The coronavirus variant is more infectious than the original COVID-19 virus and has rapidly become dominant in that country's coastal areas.
Alberta Health told CBC News that four cases of the variant have now been found in the province.
The first case was found in late December and they have all been travel-related, with no evidence of further spread.
Vaccine appointments will be offered to health-care workers in medical, surgical and COVID-19 units, according to a press release on Friday.
As well, a directive from the chief medical officer of health has allowed non-Alberta Health Services employees — doctors, nurses and pharmacists — to deliver the vaccine.
Around 3,300 COVID unit staff and 15,400 medical and surgical unit staff in Alberta will now eligible for the vaccine starting immediately.
"There are many regulated health practitioners who are authorized and have the knowledge, skill and competence to issue a vaccine. This directive will help us empower as many of our dedicated health-care workers as possible to join the broader team and help immunize Albertans," said Hinshaw in the release.
As of Thursday, 37,686 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in Alberta.
Kenney said current provincial restrictions intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus will remain in place for at least two more weeks.
"If we were just to lift all the restrictions and let 'er rip … there's no doubt in my mind we would be back in the kind of exponential growth we saw in late November, early December."
Alberta reported 24 more deaths on Friday and 1,183 new cases of COVID-19 in the province, with a total of 13,628 active cases, increasing from 13,298 reported the day previous.
There are 851 people in hospital and 135 in intensive care.
Kenney was joined by Dr. Deena Hinshaw for Thursday's news conference.
It was the first time Kenney has joined Hinshaw at the podium since Dec. 22, when he cautioned Albertans to remain vigilant over the holidays and spoke of the staggering toll that surging case numbers were exacting on front-line healthcare.
Since then, the province has been embroiled in an MLA travel scandal, made slow but steady progress in its vaccination campaign, lost three health-care workers to the virus and watched reported cases gradually decline.
The next live update with Hinshaw will be on Monday.
Alberta schools will resume in-person learning on Jan. 11, as the government planned before the holiday season, Premier Jason Kenney says.
"The decision to resume in-class learning on Jan. 11 is based on carefully considering the importance of attending school in person," Kenney said Thursday at a news conference, "as well as the latest evidence of cases dropping in all school-related age groups in December."
"At the beginning of the school year, families across Alberta made the choice that was best for their kids and their family situation as to whether or not to have their children attend in-person class this year. While about 20 per cent of families and students chose to learn at home, the majority of parents chose in-school learning."
There was a reassuring trend in dropping case numbers for all school-aged groups in December following the most recent restrictions, the premier said, but while testing numbers declined over the holidays, as anticipated, the province saw a continued high positivity rate.
"Let me just pause there to put that in context, because we got used to high numbers in the past couple of months," Kenney said. "But I remember from basically May through the end of September, a bad day would be a two per cent positivity rate, and in the last week or so, we've been seeing about seven per cent."
Doctors in Red Deer say their hospital is under tremendous strain as it faces a wave of very sick COVID-19 patients.
The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre serves close to half a million people in central Alberta and it is the only hospital in the region equipped to treat COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care.
According to Alberta Health Services, 38 people with COVID-19 had been admitted to the facility as of Thursday morning, including 17 in the ICU.
"We really have never seen patient volumes like this," said Dr. Kym Jim, internal medicine specialist at Red Deer Regional Hospital. "Our intensive care has now overflowed into coronary care, which means patients in coronary care are now being managed in other areas of the hospital."
The hospital's ICU is equipped with 12 beds. With the expansion into the cardiac care unit, six surge beds have been added for a total of 18 beds —17 of which are filled by COVID-19 patients.
In addition, there are a number of other patients requiring intensive care for other reasons.
"This puts tremendous strain on the system — tremendous strain on staff. We just have never seen this number of ventilated patients at our hospital," said Jim.
WestJet is cutting jobs and slashing its flight capacity by a third because of what the airline calls "instability in the face of continuing federal government travel advisories and restrictions."
The Calgary-based airline said in a release Friday that up to 1,000 of its employees will be impacted by "furloughs, temporary layoffs, unpaid leaves and reduced hours."
Ottawa recently changed the rules to require anyone coming into Canada to have a negative COVID-19 test in order to be allowed into the country. As soon as that happened, WestJet CEO Ed Sims said the airline saw "significant reductions in new bookings and unprecedented cancellations."
"The entire travel industry and its customers are again on the receiving end of incoherent and inconsistent government policy," he said.
"We have advocated over the past 10 months for a co-ordinated testing regime on Canadian soil, but this hasty new measure is causing Canadian travellers unnecessary stress and confusion and may make travel unaffordable, unfeasible and inaccessible for Canadians for years to come."
In addition to the job cuts, the airline is also slashing about 30 per cent of its flights. That includes cutting its number of international flights from 100 this time last year to just five now.
The City of Calgary provided an update to its COVID-19 enforcement measures on Thursday, and said that since its temporary face coverings bylaw went into effect on Aug. 1, it has issued 98 violation tickets. Of those, 25 have been issued since Dec. 30.
The total number of tickets issued under the Public Health Act since the State of Local Emergency was declared on Nov. 24 is 111. Nineteen of those tickets were issued since Dec. 30.
The release reminded Calgarians that even when outdoors, they should try to maintain physical distancing, and wear a mask whenever this isn't possible.
Meanwhile, City of Edmonton peace officers issued nearly 100 tickets in a four-week period to people violating the face-covering bylaw.
Adam Laughlin, interim city manager, gave council's emergency advisory committee meeting an update Thursday on the city's COVID-19 efforts.
Laughlin said officers gave out 98 tickets and issued 1,200 warnings related to the mask bylaw between Dec. 10 and Jan. 4, and also issued nine tickets for provincial Public Health Act infractions.
Amid calls for greater transparency in its vaccine rollout program, which some critics have said is too slow, Shandro defended the province's distribution system. As of Thursday, 33,864 people have been vaccinated.
Among those 25 fatalities was an Alberta physician, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced Thursday. The province said he was a man in his 70s working in the Calgary zone but did not provide any further information.
"While this virus was not contracted at work, we know physicians are on the front lines every day, working hard to battle the physical and emotional toll of this pandemic," Shandro said in a release.
"Their expert care, deep compassion and tireless leadership is one of the finest examples of public service. This loss will be felt by all Albertans."
The first known death of a health-care worker in the province was Joe Marie (Jing) Parrenas Corral, a 61-year-old Calgary man worked as a health-care aide at Bethany Riverview, a long-term care centre specializing in caring for people with complex dementia. He died on Dec. 28.
The second health-care worker to die from the virus was a continuing care worker in her 50s who worked in the Edmonton zone.
More than 200 doctors have signed an open letter calling on the province to prioritize the vaccination of all health-care workers caring for patients in Alberta's dedicated COVID-19 wards.
In the letter addressed to Health Minister Tyler Shandro on Wednesday, 219 physicians from across the province say Alberta's vaccination schedule has passed over critical workers on the front lines of Alberta's battle against the virus.
The physicians say all personnel employed in the specialized units — including family physicians, medical internists, nurses, clerks and cleaning staff — contend with the same risk and should be next in line for inoculation, the letter states.
The situation is urgent, the doctors say. Ward staff are continuously exposed to the virus and — despite the use of PPE — some have already contracted COVID-19 from their patients.
"These are the unsung heroes of our battle against this virus," the letter says. "It is not only dumbfounding but is in fact demoralizing that these colleagues have not been recognized for the valuable contributions they make."
Health-care workers in COVID-19 units are eligible for immunizations during Phase 1B of Alberta's vaccine schedule, which is slated to begin next month.
The combination of new federal travel rules and a Calgary airport testing program means people taking advantage of that pilot project will now need three COVID-19 tests to arrive in Canada and exit quarantine early.
Under the new federal rules, as of 10 p.m. Wednesday night (12 midnight in Eastern Time), anyone older than five entering Canada will be required to show proof of a negative test — taken within 72 hours before the flight — before being allowed to board the plane.
This new rule operates independently but will have implications for air travellers participating in pilot program that allows eligible international travellers to take a COVID-19 test at one of two border crossings in Alberta — the Calgary International Airport and the Coutts land border crossing.
If travellers who opt for the pilot project test negative, they can leave quarantine as long as they remain in Alberta for the first 14 days and get a followup test a week later.
The pilot project is a partnership between Alberta and the federal government.
On Monday, Premier Jason Kenney accepted the resignations of Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard as minister of municipal affairs and Jamie Huckabay as his chief of staff.
In a Facebook post, Kenney said he has also demoted five other UCP MLAs who travelled internationally over the holidays.
Calgary-Klein MLA Jeremy Nixon has been stripped from his position as parliamentary secretary for civil society. Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan has been removed from Treasury Board.
Three MLAs — Calgary-Peigan's Tanya Fir, Tany Yao of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo and Lesser Slave Lake's Pat Rehn — have been removed from the legislature committees they have sat on.
Several members of Calgary city council are not happy about the fact two members of the mayor's office went to Hawaii over the Christmas break. Mayor Naheed Nenshi revealed the trips on Tuesday.
His chief of staff Devery Corbin and an administrative assistant went on separate trips to Hawaii.
Nenshi said he was aware of the trips and all travel rules were followed by both staffers. In hindsight, he said he regrets he didn't tell them to avoid leaving the country.
However, he said he would not be sanctioning his staff members. He said they aren't elected officials and their employer is actually the City of Calgary. The mayor maintains that it is elected officials who must be held to a higher standard.
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 of Friday.
- Calgary zone: 4,839, up from 4,739 reported on Thursday (36,673 recovered).
- Edmonton zone: 5,483, up from 5,465 (40,652 recovered).
- North zone: 1,508, up from 1,384 (6,454 recovered).
- South zone: 262, up from 252 (4,870 recovered).
- Central zone: 1,460, down from 1,381 (5,995 recovered).
- Unknown: 76, down from 77 (139 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
- For the latest on what's happening in the rest of Canada and around the world on Friday, see here.