Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Tuesday, March 2
Alberta may extend period between doses of COVID-19 vaccines
- As of Tuesday, there were 261 people being treated in hospital for COVID-19, an increase of four from the day before, and 54 people in intensive care beds.
- Alberta reported 257 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.
- 5,864 coronavirus tests were completed with a positivity rate of 4.5 per cent.
- There are 4,631 active cases across the province as well as two more deaths.
- Thirty-five additional variant cases were recorded on Tuesday, bringing the total to 492.
- Of those variant cases, 484 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.
- Alberta may follow British Columbia's lead and lengthen the time between administering first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Tuesday.
- Emerging evidence from the United Kingdom, B.C., and Quebec suggests the first dose of the two vaccines currently being distributed in Alberta can provide 90-per-cent protection against the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and that protection can last for months. Alberta health officials and physicians are now reviewing that new evidence and examining whether the province can further delay second shots.
- As of March 1, the province's COVID-19 vaccination rollout has resulted in 245,054 doses of vaccine being administered. That number includes 88,539 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 Settlement.in the province.
- Appointments for Albertans born in 1946 or earlier can be booked online or by calling 811, at 58 sites around the province.
- On Monday Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, along with Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced the province would begin moving on to Step 2 of its plan to lift COVID-19 public health 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, as well as the low-intensity use of treadmills, ellipticals and related equipment, will now be permitted at gyms as long as people are following public health rules like maintaining a physical distance of three metres between participants.
- Shandro clarified Tuesday that "low-intensity" activities are those that don't significantly raise a person's breathing rate, and said gyms and clients will be allowed to make such decisions for themselves.
- All indoor fitness must be pre-registered — no drop-ins allowed.
- 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.
- Hinshaw will deliver her next update on Wednesday afternoon, although the province will release updated COVID-19 numbers on its website Tuesday afternoon.
- However, Kenney, Shandro and Finance Minster Travis Toews have scheduled a news conference at 11 a.m. Tuesday to highlight funding in the 2021 budget aimed at supporting the health-care system and Alberta's pandemic response. CBC News will carry it live here and on Facebook.
- Scott Wildeman, president of the Fitness Industry Council of Canada and an instructor with GYMVMT in Calgary, says he believes the delay in opening more thoroughly will likely be the end of many fitness studios that focus exclusively on high-intensity workouts. "They've extended, they've borrowed, they've put their life savings into this and those groups are really in trouble.… It's been completely decimating to our industry."
- However, Edmonton emergency room physician Dr. Shazma Mithani says she is happy the Alberta government isn't moving ahead with its full Step 2 reopening plan. "It's clear that they are taking this seriously, which they should be," she said.
- 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.
- 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.
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 Tuesday:
- Calgary zone: 1,560, down from 1,562 (49,155 recovered).
- Edmonton zone: 1,030, up from 1,014 (51,882 recovered).
- North zone: 1,061, down from 1,084 (10,794 recovered).
- South zone: 333, up from 328 (6,135 recovered).
- Central zone: 636, down from 672 (9,471 recovered).
- Unknown: 11, down from 14 (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:
Decisions about what constitutes "safe" indoor fitness activities will be left to gym owners and their clients, Alberta's health minister says.
Under Step 2 of the province's relaunch plan, announced on Monday, gyms and fitness centres were allowed to reopen for "low-intensity" activities.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Tuesday there was some confusion about which activities would be allowed, and he tried to clear that up.
"If you operate a gym, you can be open," he said. "That is perfectly within the rules."
Shandro said "low-intensity" activities are those that don't significantly raise a person's breathing rate, and said gyms and clients will be allowed to make such decisions for themselves.
"We're relying on owners and clients to use judgment, to show good faith," Shandro said at a news conference.
Alberta reported two more deaths and 257 news cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.
Alberta may follow British Columbia's lead and lengthen the time between administering first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines, Health Minister Tyler Shandro says.
Emerging evidence from the United Kingdom, B.C., and Quebec suggests the first dose of the two vaccines currently being distributed in Alberta can provide 90-per-cent protection against the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and that protection can last for months.
Alberta health officials and physicians are now reviewing that new evidence and examining whether the province can further delay second shots, Shandro said at a Tuesday news conference.
"It's going to give us an opportunity to get more people vaccinated more quickly, which is going to be fantastic news for Albertans," he said.
Manufacturers' instructions say the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses should be given 21 days apart and Moderna doses should be 28 days apart.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization said prolonging the wait to 42 days is acceptable in places where there's high community transmission, strain on the health-care system and limited vaccine supply. Vaccine shipments to Canada were significantly delayed in February.
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.
Some business owners and stakeholders are expressing confusion and disappointment after the Alberta government announced that Stage 2 of its reopening plan would start with a scaled-back approach to easing restrictions.
Initially Stage 2 included the potential reopening of facilities that included banquet halls, community halls and conference centres, and the further reopening of fitness facilities.
Instead, it will now begin with libraries reopening at 15 per cent of fire code capacity. Low-intensity individual and group fitness activities, such as light strength training, Pilates and tai-chi, are also now permitted at gyms.
But high-intensity workouts including spinning and CrossFit currently remain prohibited, and restrictions on hotels, community and banquet halls, and conference centres will continue until Stage 3 — "at least" three weeks away, Shandro said Monday.
"To be honest, my heart stopped a bit [when I heard the announcement]," said Christine Dairon, the marketing director for the Delta by Marriott Calgary South.
An Edmonton emergency room physician says she is happy the Alberta government isn't moving ahead with its full Step 2 reopening plan even though the number of hospitalizations is well below the province's required benchmark.
"It's clear that they are taking this seriously, which they should be," Dr. Shazma Mithani said in an interview Monday shortly after Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minster Tyler Shandro announced the easing of restrictions.
"I think the assumption in general was that they were just going to push through. I'm happy to see that that's not what's happening, that they really are looking at the leading indicators and adjusting accordingly."
Those indicators include the R-value, the positivity rate and number of new cases. Mithani said the presence of the more highly contagious variant strains of coronavirus in Alberta is a high concern.
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."
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 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.
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.
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.
"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