Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Saturday, March 6

Alberta is expanding its COVID-19 vaccine rollout to include people under age 75 starting March 15 and aims to be able to offer all adults in the province their first dose by the end of June.

Alberta to expand COVID-19 vaccine rollout starting March 15, health minister says

Alberta senior Prem Charles, 83, gets a COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 26, 2021. Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said on Thursday that if vaccine shipments arrive as scheduled, all adults in the province will receive their first dose by the end of June. (Alberta Health Services)

The latest:

  • Alberta reported 341 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, a decrease from 411 on Friday.
  • Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Alberta. Since that first case a year ago, 133,202 other Albertans have tested positive for the virus. Nearly 2,000 Albertans have died. See graphics and video that dramatically illustrate how it forever changed the province, from remote communities to large workforces, here.
  • White paper angels tacked on door after door. The chilling sight shook Nina Vaughan as she walked through the Calgary nursing home where her 82-year-old father lay dying. She was allowed in to say goodbye after he suffered for weeks alone in his room. Read more about how the pandemic affected Vaughan and so many other Albertans who lost loved ones or suffered lingering illness here.
  • Alberta said Thursday it would expand its COVID-19 vaccine rollout to include people under age 75 starting March 15 — and, if shipments arrive as scheduled, all adults in the province will receive their first dose by the end of June.
  • Alberta Health will soon begin using the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and plans to offer the first 58,500 doses of that vaccine only to healthy adults between the ages of 50 and 64.
  • Bookings for the AstraZeneca vaccine will begin on March 10 for any Albertan born in 1957 and those born between 1958 and 1971 will be offered chances to book vaccine appointments in the following days as long as supply lasts.
  • Vaccinations for those 75 and older (born in 1946 or earlier) are 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.
  • Health Canada has approved the use of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine in Canada, making it the fourth vaccine to be approved for use in Canada. The approval is expected to provide a significant boost to Canada's vaccine rollout.
  • Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, announced the province will join others in adopting the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommendation to extend the period between the first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
  • As of March 5, the province's COVID-19 vaccination rollout had resulted in 282,674 doses of vaccine being administered. That number includes 90,824 Albertans who are fully immunized with two doses of vaccine.
  • As of March 3, 130,000 people over 75 had been booked for their shot. The province says an average of 7,250 doses per day are being administered to Albertans in that age group.
  • The province says more than 7,000 first doses have been given so far to people living in First Nations communities. 
  • An outbreak of COVID-19 in an Alberta long-term care facility as been linked to a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus. 
  • The outbreak was confirmed late on Friday at Churchill Manor in Edmonton with a single case, and since Friday, 27 staff and residents have tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • A Red Deer meat-processing plant at the centre of a deadly COVID-19 outbreak reopened on Thursday for slaughter operations. 
  • The news of the reopening of the Olymel pork-processing came the same day the union that represents its employees said a third worker had died, making four deaths in total linked to the outbreak, according to the union. As of Wednesday, the plant outbreak had been linked to 511 cases — including 91 that are still active.
  • Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley on Thursday asked Premier Jason Kenney to launch a public inquiry into the outbreak, delay the meat-packing plant's reopening and compensate its employees during the closure.
  • Alberta moved to Step 2 of its plan to lift COVID-19 public-health restrictions on Monday, saying that gyms and fitness centres would be allowed to reopen for "low-intensity" activities and clarifying Tuesday that decisions about what constitutes "safe" indoor fitness activities will be left to gym owners and their clients.
  • Libraries were also allowed to pen to 15 per cent of fire code capacity, under the limited easing of restrictions announced Monday by Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, and Hinshaw.
  • The province said it would decide on March 22 whether to ease restrictions further at that point on retail businesses, hotels, banquet halls and children's sports.
  • As of Saturday, there were 4,649 active cases across the province as well as one more death.
  • 247 people were being treated in hospital for COVID-19, an increase of four from the day before, with 42 people in intensive care beds.
  • 8,142 coronavirus tests were completed with a positivity rate of 4.11 per cent.
  • An additional 36 variant cases were recorded on Saturday, bringing the total to 599. Of those variant cases, almost all — 589 — are the strain first identified in the U.K., and 10 are the strain first identified in South Africa.
  • Alberta's R-value has decreased slightly to 1.01, from 1.03, but it 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.

See which regions are being hit hardest

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

  • Calgary zone: 1,659, up from 1,654 (49,592 recovered).
  • Edmonton zone: 1,154, up from 1,101 (52,136 recovered).
  • North zone: 958, down from 1,005 (11,182 recovered).
  • South zone: 353, up from 341 (6,232 recovered).
  • Central zone: 511, down from 527 (9,739 recovered).
  • Unknown: 14, up from 11 (93 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 commits to eliminating pandemic surgery backlog by end of year

The province says that in the next fiscal year, starting April 1, the health system will provide 55,000 additional surgeries on top of the normal volume of 290,000, and by 2023 it plans to be able to to provide all scheduled surgeries within "clinically acceptable times."

Health Minister Tyler Shandro says this plan, which will receive $1.25 billion from the province's COVID-19 contingency in last week's budget, and $120 million from the Alberta Surgical Initiative, should eliminate the pandemic backlog of 36,000 surgeries by the end of the year.

"Even as AHS was forced to make specific changes to free up capacity, they pressed ahead where they could, and they've worked in partnership with Covenant Health and chartered surgical facilities to minimize delays for patients and the backlog of postponed surgeries," he said Friday. 

Shandro says chartered surgical facilities began ramping up their surgical activity in December, especially cataract surgeries that have the largest wait lists.

This spring, the government will issue requests for proposals for additional capacity for ophthalmology and orthopedic surgical services, in March and May, respectively.

"By 2023, this plan means that chartered surgical facilities will offer Albertans 90,000 surgeries each year, far more than the current 40,000 surgeries each year," he said. 

Province plans to give all adults their first doses by the end of June

Alberta will expand its COVID-19 vaccine rollout to include people under age 75 starting March 15, and if shipments arrive as scheduled, all adults in the province will receive their first dose by the end of June, the health minister says.

"By June 30, we expect to have offered every single adult in the province at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine," Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Thursday at a news conference.

Alberta expands COVID-19 vaccine rollout

1 year ago
Duration 0:52
Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said on Thursday that if vaccine shipments arrive as scheduled, all adults in the province will receive their first dose by the end of June.

Under the expanding vaccine program set to begin in less than two weeks, about 437,000 more people between the ages of 65 and 74 will become eligible for inoculations, Shandro said.

To avoid long delays for those making appointments, when Phase 2A begins on March 15 bookings will be offered in two-year age groups, Shandro said.

On the first day, anyone aged 73 or 74 will be able to book.

On the second day, eligibility will be expanded to include anyone aged 71 to 72, and so on from there.

From remote communities to large workforces, the pandemic has forever changed the province

It was inevitable, the premier said.

Though there were only dozens of cases of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 reported in Canada, health officials were resigned that the pandemic would eventually spread into Alberta.

A news bulletin went out in the late afternoon March 5, with few details aside from confirmation that a presumptive case had been confirmed.

Less than an hour later, the province's chief medical officer of health took to the podium.

"Uh, you all know, my name is Dr. Deena Hinshaw," she said. "I'm here, as you know, to provide an update on COVID-19 in Alberta."

Hinshaw went on to provide more details: the presumptive case was a woman in her 50s who had been on board the Grand Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined off the coast of California.

Nearly a year later, Hinshaw needed to introduce herself to Albertans no longer — she had become a fixture when it came to her daily updates on cases, hospitalizations, outbreaks and deaths.

For more, see: These graphics show just how deeply COVID-19 has infiltrated Alberta

Alberta NDP demands public inquiry into deadly COVID outbreak at Red Deer slaughterhouse

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley is asking Premier Jason Kenney to launch a public inquiry into a deadly outbreak of COVID-19 at a Red Deer slaughterhouse, delay the meat-packing plant's reopening and compensate its employees during the closure.

The Olymel plant — which closed temporarily Feb. 15 — confirmed Wednesday that it planned to reopen for slaughter operations on Thursday and resume cutting room operations on Friday.

The news of the reopening came on the same day that a third worker's death had been linked to the outbreak.

According to the union, that raises the total number of deaths to four, including a woman in her 60s previously linked to the outbreak, but the government has yet to confirm that total.

The outbreak has been linked to 511 COVID-19 cases, including 91 that are still active.

Notley asked the provincial government to keep the plant closed until safety measures requested by the plant's union are met and employees feel safe going back to work.

"With 500 infections and three deaths, [safety measures were] not adequate before," said Notley, speaking from Calgary's McDougall Centre on Thursday morning. "I can only imagine the grief and the stress that they are experiencing as a result."

An Olymel meat plant in Red Deer is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak, which has been linked to a recent death, Alberta Health confirms. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

On Wednesday, Olymel defended plans to reopen Thursday, saying it had used the temporary closure to update and reinforce health and safety measures at the plant.

"It's a very sad situation for the family and friends and colleagues, and Olymel is offering its sincere condolences to the families," spokesperson Richard Vigneault said in a statement. "Olymel will remain available for assistance to support the families in this tragedy."

The company said teams from Alberta Health Services, Occupational Health and Safety, and Environmental Public Health visited the facility on March 1 and 3. AHS made several recommendations at that time.

The company said it had added staff to monitor and enforce health and safety measures, and "further adjusted and enhanced" social distancing protocols, particularly when it came to adding physical space.

Health and safety meetings between management and union representatives are scheduled on a daily basis, the company said.

"Reopening can occur because Olymel management and the regulators are satisfied that employees can return to the plant safely," said Vigneault.

Earlier this week, Thomas Hesse, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, called for the plant's reopening to be delayed, saying in an open letter that employees do not feel safe. 

The union listed more than 20 "action items" it said should be fulfilled before reopening is considered, in order to regain the confidence of employees and ensure their safety.

Easing of restrictions at private supportive-living facility during variant outbreak questioned

A family is raising concerns about decisions made at a private living facility dealing with an outbreak of a COVID-19 variant and a mouse infestation.

Rose Zennick's 94-year-old father lives at Churchill Manor in southeast Edmonton.

She says restrictions were loosened too soon. Her father tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday — the same day he received the vaccine.

"With them knowing that the vaccine was coming within a two-week period, they should have waited," Zennick said Thursday at a news conference hosted by the NDP.

"I'm so angry and frustrated and disappointed. I'm very concerned for my dad. He's scared right now. He has no symptoms, but his doctor told me to get ready." 

An outbreak of COVID-19 at Churchill Manor, long-term care facility in Edmonton, is linked to a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Emails shared with CBC show residents were informed the facility eased safety measures on Feb. 16, allowing residents to gather in groups of five, though with masks and social distancing. Residents were also allowed to visit with two family members indoors.

Four days later, families were informed residents would receive their vaccinations on March 1.

On Feb. 26, a resident tested positive for the coronavirus.

Judge rules Alberta pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

A judge has ruled that an Alberta pastor will remain in jail until his trial because he refuses to follow a bail condition that requires he comply with public health orders.

James Coates with GraceLife Church, west of Edmonton, has been in jail for more than two weeks and was appealing his bail conditions.

Coates is charged with violating Alberta's Public Health Act and with breaking a promise to abide by conditions of his bail release, which is a Criminal Code offence.

The judge says the public health law remains valid and enforceable against the pastor. The trial is set for May.

Coates's lawyer James Kitchen argued that Coates can't follow a bail condition that forbids him from holding services, because it would violate the pastor's conscience by disobeying God.

A prosecutor argued that the pastor's release is a danger to the public. GraceLife church has been holding services that officials say break public-health orders on attendance, masking and distancing.

Calgary to offer low-intensity exercises at city recreation centres

Calgary will offer low-intensity individual and group exercise appointments at community recreation centres in response to reopening plans outlined by the province in recent days. 

Under Step 2 of the province's relaunch plan announced earlier this week, gyms and fitness centres are allowed to reopen for "low-intensity" activities.

Calgary will offer the activities by appointment at the following locations:

  • Bob Bahan Aquatic & Fitness Centre.
  • Canyon Meadows Aquatic & Fitness Centre.
  • Killarney Aquatic & Recreation Centre.
  • Sir Winston Churchill Aquatic & Recreation Centre.

The Thornhill Aquatic & Recreation Centre will reopen on March 8 to accommodate demand.

Low-intensity fitness appointments, which include weight room access, aquatic lane walking, and shallow and deep-water exercise, can be booked starting March 5 and will begin March 9. 

The Alberta government says low-intensity exercises include weightlifting, low-intensity dance classes, yoga, barre and indoor climbing, as well as the low-intensity use of treadmills, ellipticals and related equipment. Masks must still be worn. (Steven Senne/AP/The Canadian Press)

Low-intensity group fitness classes can be booked starting March 9 and will begin the week of March 15. The city says face coverings are still required inside municipal recreation facilities, except while in the pool. Masks are also required when using fitness equipment or while engaging in low-intensity activities.

City-owned recreation facilities are still available for one-on-one sport training and low- and high-intensity aquatic bookings. Games and league play are still not allowed

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

With files from The Canadian Press


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