Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Thursday, March 25

The Alberta government warns that additional public health restrictions may become necessary due to the continued rise of cases and the spread of highly contagious variants of the coronavirus, which made up nearly a third of the new cases reported Wednesday.

Additional restrictions could be necessary if B117 variant cases increase, Hinshaw says

Some parts of the province are at risk of seeing the B117 variant become the dominant strain of the virus, Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Wednesday. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The latest COVID-19 numbers:

  • On Thursday, Alberta reported 764 new cases of COVID-19 and three more deaths
  • An additional 191 cases were determined to be caused by variants of concern.
  • Thursday's tally brings the number of active cases in the province to 6,835.
  • In total, Alberta has seen 144,311 cases with 135,500 recovered and 1,976 deaths.
  • (Note the latest daily count of new cases in the above chart will usually vary slightly from the net new cases Alberta Health announces each day. For more on why, click here.)
  • Health officials are particularly concerned about the spread of highly contagious variants of the coronavirus.
  • As of Thursday, 2,301 cases involving variants of concern had been identified in the province, with 1,400 of them active. Variants now account for 20.5 per cent of all active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta. 
  • Of those cases of variants of concern, 881 people have recovered while 20 have died.
  • Health officials in Lethbridge are urging people to get tested after numbers spiked recently in the city, saying it is a "hotspot" for COVID-19, and largely due to non-compliance with health measures.
  • Hospitals in Alberta are preparing for a third wave of the pandemic, driven by the more aggressive variants of the coronavirus. 
  • Almost all variant cases are the strain first identified in the U.K. (B117) and 20 are the strain first identified in South Africa (B1351).
  • Alberta has also identified five cases of the variant strain first identified in Brazil, known as P1.
  • There are 294 people in hospital with the disease, 55 of them in intensive care.
  • Another 14,062 coronavirus tests were reported Thursday, with a positivity rate of about 5.4 per cent.

The latest on reopening and restrictions:

  • Hinshaw warned Wednesday that additional public health restrictions could be necessary in Alberta if variant cases continue to increase.
  • The spread of variants and increasing overall case numbers were among the reasons the government cited Monday when it announced the province will not proceed with Step 3 of its reopening plan.
  • "What we know is that in other places where variant strains have become dominant ... additional restrictions have been required," Hinshaw said at a Wednesday news conference.
  • In many countries in Europe, including the U.K. earlier this year, cases linked to variant strains rose very quickly, Hinshaw said, and in some cases additional restrictions were needed to prevent further spread and to ease the impact on hospitals and ICUs.
  • According to the provincial plan, to move to Step 3 there must be fewer than 300 people in hospital, and that total must be declining. As of late, hospitalizations have been rising.
  • Under the current restrictions, all indoor social gatherings are limited to household members only. 
  • People who live alone can have up to two close contacts:
    • These must be the same two contacts throughout the duration of the restriction.
    • If the close contacts do not live alone, visits cannot be held at their home.
    • Single parents who only live with their children under 18 are permitted to have up to two close contacts.
  • Outdoor social gatherings can have up to 10 people, but must follow all public health rules about masks and physical distancing. The rules are enforceable with $1,000 fines.
  • Retail stores and malls can have their capacity to 25 per cent of fire code occupancy, and youth sports teams and activities are allowed to resume with up to 10 participants. Masks and physical distancing are still required.
  • Restrictions also eased for child, youth and adult performances, including singing, theatre and playing wind instruments, though participants must follow the same restrictions as for youth sports.
  • Banquet halls, community hall and hotels can host permitted performance activities, wedding ceremonies with up to 10 people, and funeral services with up to 20.
  • Rules for indoor fitness still require that gym visits must be scheduled or by appointment — no drop-ins allowed.
    • Low-intensity individual and group exercises are allowed without a trainer. Public health rules must be followed, including wearing masks and physical distancing.
    • High-intensity activities — without a mask — are allowed only for one-on-one workouts with a trainer. Trainers must still be masked.
    • No sports games, competitions, team practice or league play is allowed.
  • Registration will begin in April for swim and skate lessons with the City of Calgary, which will host a maximum of 10 people in each class to maintain physical distancing.

The latest on the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines:

  • The Alberta government reported reaching a COVID-19 milestone on Wednesday, with more than half a million doses of vaccine administered in the province. 
  • As of Thursday, 532,171 doses of vaccine have been administered and 94,347 Albertans have been fully vaccinated with two doses.
  • That means 9.9% of Albertans have now received at least one dose of vaccine.
  • The province told CBC News that 94,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine expected to arrive Wednesday had been delayed. They now expect to receive only 28,500 doses this week, and 65,900 doses on or around March 30.
  • The delay has impacted shipments to pharmacies and vaccine appointments. The province says any pharmacy which has had to adjust appointments will reach out to patients directly.
  • Alberta opened up appointments for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to everyone eligible in Phase 2A on March 19 after starting the rollout on March 15. This means the following can book appointments:
    • Anyone born in 1956 or earlier.
    • First Nations, Métis and Inuit people born in 1971 or earlier. (Those living on-reserve or on-settlement should book through a local clinic.) 
  • Staff and residents of licensed seniors supportive living facilities not included in Phase 1. (They will receive a direct email from AHS with a unique link to go online and book their immunization appointments.)
  • How to book if you're eligible:
  • Vaccinations for those 75 and older (born in 1946 or earlier) are still available at those pharmacies as well as at immunization sites operated by AHS across the province. 
The Alberta government plans to distribute another two million rapid tests to help screen for COVID-19. (CBC)
  • The Alberta government laid out its plan on March 15 for Phase 2B of the vaccine rollout, which will be for people born 2005 to 1957 (ages 16 to 64) with certain high-risk underlying health issues like chronic conditions affecting certain organs and those suffering from cancer. For the full list of health conditions see here. It's expected that the timeline will be between April and June, but it will depend on supply.
  • The government says Phase 2C of the rollout will include health-care professionals such as physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists and support staff. As well, designated support persons for those living in continuing care will also become eligible in the stage.

The latest on AstraZeneca-Oxford/Covishield vaccine:

  • As of March 10, Alberta began offering the AstraZeneca-Oxford/Covishield vaccine as an option for adults who do not have a severe chronic illness in a staggered rollout to Albertans born 1957 to 1971 and First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) persons born 1972 to 1976.
  • However, not everyone in those age ranges was immediately eligible: the province staggered the rollout starting with the oldest and expanding it a birth year or two at a time depending on vaccine supply.
  • The province received only 58,500 doses of AstraZeneca-Oxford/Covishield in its first shipment of the vaccine. As of Sunday afternoon, Hinshaw said more than 92 per cent of the province's current supply of AstraZeneca-Oxford and Covishield vaccine doses had been booked.
  • Given the dwindling supply, the province shut down online bookings, with limited appointments available only by calling Health Link at 811.
  • The government says m​​​ore appointments and birth years will be added as more AstraZeneca supply becomes available.
  • The U.S. has announced plans to send 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada, which could arrive by the end of the month. Plans are still being worked out.
  • Healthy Albertans in those age ranges can also choose to wait until Phase 2D begins in May to receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine if they don't want the AstraZeneca vaccine. However, AHS stressed that AstraZeneca has been proven to be highly effective in preventing serious illness and death in adults 18 to 64.

The latest on COVID-19 rapid testing:

  • Another two million free rapid testing kits are now being offered to public, private and not-for-profit employers and service providers, the Alberta government said Tuesday
  • The announcement follows the earlier rollout of more than 1.2 million kits to long-term care facilities, schools, outbreak sites, hospitals, homeless shelters and industries across the province.
  • Any employer or service provider can apply for the free test kits, the news release said.
  • A COVID-19 rapid testing pilot project to screen students and staff without symptoms is beginning at two northeast Calgary schools:
    • Testing began March 18 at Rundle School for Grades K-6.
    • Testing began March 22 at St. John XXIII School for Grades K-9.
  • Canadian energy giant Suncor will focus its COVID-19 rapid-testing efforts on hundreds of fly-in, fly-out workers that will be conducting planned maintenance in northern Alberta over the coming spring and summer.

See which regions are being hit hardest:

Here is the detailed regional breakdown of active cases as reported Thursday by the province:

  • Calgary zone: 3,099, up from 2,910 (51,871 recovered).
  • Edmonton zone: 1,512, up from 1,455 (53,658 recovered).
  • North zone: 798, up from 788 (12,477 recovered).
  • South zone: 790, up from 784 (6,834 recovered).
  • Central zone: 611, up from 581 (10,477 recovered).
  • Unknown: 25, up from 16 (113 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

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

Here are the latest Alberta COVID-19 stories:

Alberta is putting off Step 3 of reopening

3 years ago
Duration 2:15
Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the province would not be easing restrictions Monday. While hospitalizations still number under 300 in Alberta, officials say that number could rise in the coming weeks.
  • For the latest on what's happening in the rest of Canada and around the world, see here.

With files from The Canadian Press