Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Monday, March 1

The province will begin moving on to Step 2 of its plan to lift restrictions. It will allow limited use of libraries and gyms, but it will hold off on easing restrictions further on retail businesses, hotels, banquet halls and children's sports.

Province announces Alberta will begin moving on to Step 2 of plan to lift restrictions

Low-intensity individual and group fitness activities, such as Pilates, tai-chi and some yoga, are now permitted at gyms as the province cautiously moved toward Stage 2 of reopening on Monday. (Shutterstock)

The latest:

  • Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced Monday the province would begin moving on to Step 2 of its plan to lift restrictions.
  • Libraries will now be able to open to 15 per cent of fire code capacity.
  • Low-intensity individual and group fitness activities, such as low-intensity yoga, Pilates and tai-chi, will now be permitted at gyms.
  • However, the province will hold off on easing restrictions further on retail businesses, hotels, banquet halls and children's sports.
  • Kenney cited a plateauing of case numbers and a slight increase in the testing positivity rate for the decision to delay the full reopening of Stage 2.
  • The province will wait "at least three weeks" before the cabinet COVID-19 committee makes a decision about moving forward with Step 3, Shandro said at Monday's news conference.
  • The province had set out two benchmarks to consider before moving between the steps of its plan to lift restrictions: time and hospitalizations.
  • Monday will mark the specified three weeks since the province moved into Phase 1, when restaurants and bars were permitted to reopen for indoor service, with restrictions. 
  • Alberta is currently below its 450 hospitalizations, which was the benchmark for moving to Phase 2.
  • As of Monday, there were 257 people being treated in hospital for COVID-19, an increase of seven from the day before, and 48 in intensive care beds.
  • Alberta reported 291 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, down from 301 the day before.
  • About 5,900 tests were completed with a positivity rate of 4.9 per cent.
  • There are 4,674 active cases across the province as well as two more deaths.
  • Thirty-five additional variant cases were recorded on Monday, bringing the total to 457.
  • Of those variant cases, 449 are the strain first identified in the U.K. and eight are the strain first identified in South Africa.
  • Alberta's R-value has decreased slightly to 1.01, from 1.03, but still means that more than one person on average contracts COVID-19 from each positive case. An R-value above 1.0 indicates exponential growth. Outside of Calgary and Edmonton, the R-value fell from 1.13 to 0.94.
  • The province's COVID-19 vaccination rollout has resulted in 235,508 doses of vaccine being administered so far. That number includes 88,145 Albertans who are fully immunized with two doses of vaccine.
  • Kenney said Monday that cases in the province's long-term care homes have plummeted by 95 per cent after vaccinations.
  • On Feb. 19, the vaccination program expanded to all residents in retirement centres, lodges and other supportive and congregate living facilities with residents aged 75 or older.
  • Last Wednesday, it expanded to include all Albertans born in 1946 and earlier — about 230,000 more people, and nearly half of those eligible — 110,000 people — had booked their vaccinations by last Friday.
  • Vaccinations also became available for all First Nations, Inuit, Métis and persons 65 years of age and over living in a First Nations community or Métis the province.
  • Appointments for Albertans born in 1946 or earlier can be booked online or by calling 811, at 58 sites around the province.
  • Shandro said earlier this month that vaccinations for those 75 and older would soon be available at 102 community pharmacies in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer as well as at the AHS sites. A list of participating pharmacies is available on the Alberta Blue Cross website.
  • Family doctors and their clinical staff will be included in Phase 2 of Alberta's COVID-19 vaccine rollout. That's expected to take place between April and September.
  • Alberta Health confirmed Friday there are now three deaths linked to a COVID-19 outbreak at the Olymel meat-packing plant in Red Deer.
  • The pandemic derailed the Alberta government's plans to return to a balanced budget, as Thursday it proposed nearly $62 billion in spending for 2021-22.

You can see active cases by local health area on the following interactive map. Scroll, zoom and click on the map for more information.

See the detailed regional breakdown

Here is the detailed regional breakdown of active cases as of Monday:

  • Calgary zone: 1,562, up from 1,551 (49,046 recovered).
  • Edmonton zone: 1,014, up from 970 (51,823 recovered).
  • North zone: 1,084, up from 1,044 (10,732 recovered).
  • South zone: 328, up from 319 (6,123 recovered).
  • Central zone: 672, up from 670 (9,415 recovered).
  • Unknown: 14, down from 15 (94 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

Here are the latest Alberta COVID-19 stories:

With COVID-19 cases declining, Alberta eases into Step 2 of reopening plan

With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continuing to decline, Alberta eased some public health restrictions on Monday to allow fitness centres and libraries to partially reopen.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney made the announcement at a news conference on Monday.

"Today, I am here to announce that Alberta is ready to safely and cautiously enter Step 2 of our path forward," Kenney said. "I want to thank every Albertan who has responsibly observed [public health] measures through Step 1 over the past several weeks to protect lives and our health-care system in the process.

"I know this has not been easy, especially with cold weather in February limiting our ability to gather outdoors. But the sacrifices Albertans have made are the reason that we're able to take another step forward today. COVID-19 is still here and it is still very much a threat to our health and our health-care system. Still, over the past few months, Alberta has made tremendous progress."

Libraries are now allowed to reopen with 15 per cent of fire-code capacity, and fitness centres are allowed to resume low-intensity individual and group workouts for adults, Kenney said.

As a precautionary measure, possible changes to current restrictions for retail, hotels, banquets, community halls and conference centres have been delayed, the premier said, given that the province has seen a slight increase recently in the testing positivity rate and the number of active cases.

The province is taking a "careful approach" to reopening, Kenney said, and despite the fact that hospitalizations are well below Step 2 thresholds, there has been a small increase in the daily number of new variant cases.

The province will wait "at least three weeks" before the cabinet COVID-19 committee makes a decision about moving forward with Step 3, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said.

For more, see: With COVID-19 cases declining, Alberta eases into Step 2 of reopening plan

COVID-19 enforcement power issued to peace officers expires

The recent expiry of a ministerial order means some Alberta peace officers no longer have the authority to enforce COVID-19 rules under the public health act.

According to a bulletin posted online by the Alberta government, level one community peace officers and level two Alberta peace officers saw those temporary enforcement powers expire earlier this week.

Terri Miller, president of the Alberta Association of Community Peace Officers, said that order gave the officers the ability to enforce the public health act while working in tandem with local police and Alberta Health.

"Once the ministerial order is removed, their ability to enforce under that public health act is also removed," Miller said. "So the onus would fall back on local police agencies, such as the RCMP."

Some Alberta peace officers no longer have the authority to enforce COVID-19 rules under the public health act after the expiration of a ministerial order. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Municipal bylaws in effect due to the COVID-19 pandemic aren't affected by the announcement.

The Alberta government initially gave municipal peace officers the power to fine people under the public health act in March of last year. Those powers were rescinded when the province cancelled the public health emergency.

The order issued Nov. 27 gave peace officers the power to fine a second time, and contained a sunset clause that allowed it to expire after 90 days. 

WestJet reaches tentative agreement with union that represents more than 3,100 cabin crew

WestJet says it has reached a tentative agreement with the Canadian Union of Public Employees on a first collective agreement that would cover more than 3,100 cabin crew if ratified.

CUPE has represented cabin crew at Calgary-based WestJet Airlines Ltd. since 2018 and has engaged the company in collective bargaining toward a union contract since April 2019.

An Air Canada plane is driving on a runway underneath a WestJet plane that is taking off in front of a mountain range.
WestJet has reached a tentative deal with cabin crews represented by CUPE. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

In a statement, CUPE Local 4070 president Chris Rauenbusch characterized the news as a "monumental task" given COVID-19 travel restrictions and layoffs.

"[This is] an unprecedented achievement at the height of trying times for our industry," he said.

The union and the company now will await a ratification vote from the membership. In a statement, Ed Sims, WestJet's president and CEO, said he was pleased with the development.

AHS CEO apologizes for COVID-19 vaccine online booking snafus

The head of Alberta Health Services has apologized for the "frustration and worry" caused by problems during the launch of its online COVID-19 vaccine appointment booking system. 

AHS president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu released a statement Friday, saying she wants to acknowledge the anger felt by seniors and their families who ran into technical difficulties when the provincial booking system became overwhelmed after opening to those 75 and older on Wednesday.

'I’m excited to finally get my vaccine,' Richard Wright, 75, told AHS staff. He received his first dose of the vaccine Wednesday in Grande Prairie. 'I’m hoping to be able to safely visit friends and family this summer.' (AHS)

The site repeatedly crashed and the 811 phone line jammed as Albertans tried for hours to book appointments.

"I want to publicly and personally apologize to anyone who experienced frustration, anger, or worry over what should be a hopeful time in the pandemic response," she said.

Yiu said that AHS made "an error in judgement" when it stress-tested the booking system, and underestimated how many people would use the online tool and call 811 to try and book an appointment at launch time.

In her statement, Yiu also addressed reports of line-ups at immunization clinics, as seniors have queued to get their shots.

"Everyone who has an appointment is being vaccinated, and we have put in place better line management and process at the sites to encourage people to wait in their vehicles until their time slot," she said.

"Some of the clinics are behind schedule because we are taking time with each person, and we may need to extend the 10-minute allotment for each immunization. We are looking at that, and learning how to be efficient, caring, and respectful of all Albertans."

Calgary transit union says excessive overtime, overloaded buses signal need for change

The union representing Calgary's transit workers says despite an overall drop in ridership, a steady number of operational issues indicate a need to bring back some of the transit workers laid off last spring.

Approximately 450 workers were laid off last spring and routes were scaled back or temporarily suspended after revenues and ridership plunged due to COVID-19.

Mike Mahar, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 583, says staff are now complaining about too much overtime, too many overloaded buses and sporadic bus breakdowns that lead to "no shows" because there's no one to backfill.

A man wears a face mask as he waits for transit in Calgary on March 18. Transit workers say more staff is needed for overburdened system. (The Canadian Press)

Mahar said within the last week, a charter transit bus ran into problems and left students at a high school scrambling to find another way home.

"Normally Calgary Transit will have, you know, five or six or seven people on what they call standby, and as soon as the bus breaks down, they dispatch another bus with another driver," he said. "They can't do that when they've maxed themselves out, there's just no resources left."

Edmonton medical staff group calls for delaying move to Step 2 of reopening

A group of Edmonton medical staff are calling on the province to delay plans to move forward with further relaxation of COVID-19 measures.

The Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association (EZMA) released a letter Friday saying that instead of moving to Step 2 of its reopening plan, the Alberta government should close bars and restaurants to indoor service or, at least, institute capacity limits. 

Dr. James Talbot, co-chair of EZMA's pandemic committee, worries that the province is getting ahead of itself. 

"You're virtually guaranteeing that you are going to miss the signal," Talbot said.

"They should be waiting longer if they are going to use hospitalizations [as a lagging indicator] and in fact they should be using active cases."

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer, said the province would not make a decision to further ease restrictions until Monday at the earliest.  After a steady decline since December, Alberta's daily new cases and test positivity rate have plateaued and showed signs of trending upward since the province entered Step 1 on Feb. 8, which included reopening bars and restaurants for in-person service.

Third COVID-19 death linked to outbreak at Olymel meatpacking plant in Red Deer

Alberta Health confirmed two more deaths linked to a COVID-19 outbreak at the Olymel meatpacking plant in Red Deer on Friday, bringing the total to three.

Henry De Leon, 50, who worked at the plant for 15 years, died on Wednesday after spending three weeks on a ventilator, his family told CBC News. 

The Olymel pork-processing plant in Red Deer, Alta. A COVID-19 outbreak at the site has infected as many as 1 in 5 workers, Alberta Health Services says. (CBC)

The other Olymel outbreak-related death reported by the province on Friday was a woman in her 60s, who died on Sunday.

Alberta Health does not report the identities of people who die of COVID-19. 

The first COVID-19 death linked to the outbreak was Darwin Doloque, 35, who died on Jan. 28

There are 500 cases linked to the outbreak at the Red Deer meatpacking plant, according to the most recent update from Alberta Health. Of those, 156 are considered active.

Pandemic spending derails Alberta government's plan for balanced budget

Fixated on bolstering the health-care system during the COVID-19 pandemic, Alberta's United Conservative Party government has postponed its promise of a fiscal reckoning to a later, undetermined time.

A government that one year ago insisted the province had a spending problem will now raise Alberta's planned expenses by eight per cent compared to last year, proposing nearly $62 billion in spending for 2021-22.

Finance Minister Travis Toews said Alberta's situation has changed dramatically, and so should the government's plans.

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews speaks at a news conference at the legislature Thursday. (CBC)

"I'm not happy with COVID-19 and the pandemic, and having to deal with the resulting economic challenges of the province," Toews said at a Thursday news conference before tabling the budget.

"This is where we find ourselves, and we have to adjust to make sure that we're delivering the most competent, responsible governance possible."

Among the planned spending this year is a $1.25-billion contingency fund to respond to COVID-19, which includes vaccination rollout. 

With an estimated $43.7 billion in revenue, Toews predicted an $18.2-billion deficit in the coming year — one of the largest in the province's history.

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

With files from The Canadian Press