Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Thursday, Sept. 16

Alberta is now in a state of public health emergency, Premier Jason Kenney announced on Wednesday, once again reimposing strict and sweeping new measures (see details below) to combat the province's disastrous fourth wave of COVID-19 and stave off the ongoing crisis in the health-care system — including a proof-of-vaccination program.

Alberta declares state of public health emergency, reimposing COVID-19 restrictions

From left, Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Premier Jason Kenney and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, all shown at news conferences on Sept. 3, 2021. All three spoke at a news conference Wednesday as Alberta reimposed sweeping public-health restrictions to cope with the fourth wave of COVID-19. (From left: Todd Korol; Todd Korol, Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The latest on Alberta's COVID-19 response:

  • Alberta is now in a state of public health emergency, Premier Jason Kenney announced Wednesday, imposing strict and sweeping measures (see details below) to combat the province's fourth wave of COVID-19 and stave off the ongoing crisis in the health-care system. The measures include a proof-of-vaccination program.
  • As of Thursday afternoon, Alberta had 18,706 active cases
  • Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, provided an update on the province's health-care system Thursday. 
  • The fourth wave has resulted in the sharpest increase of ICU patients since the the pandemic began in early 2020, Yiu said. 
  • "We do not have an endless number of staff who can provide critical care," Yiu said Thursday. 
  • AHS is working to find ways to increase capacity. 
  • Health-care workers have been asked to identify any spaces that can be used as an ICU bed, Yiu said. This includes spaces such as operating rooms, post-anesthesia care units, observation spaces and recovery wards. 
  • Ontario and Alberta are in discussions about a potential transfer of patients if needed, Yiu said. 
  • Without surge beds, provincial ICU capacity would be at 155 per cent. 
  • Negative COVID-19 tests from Alberta Health are not applicable as part of the "vaccination exemption program," Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday. Tests must be privately paid for.
  • Alberta Health Services says intensive care units in southern Alberta remain close to capacity. For multiple days this week, the South Zone has seen 100 per cent capacity in its ICUs, dipping down  to 90 per cent capacity on Thursday.
  • Elections Canada says Alberta's new restrictions won't impact voting procedures Sept. 20.
  • A spokesperson for Elections Canada says masking requirements will remain in effect for workers and voters.
  • Kenney said Wednesday the province may run out of staffed intensive care beds within the next 10 days. 
  • The premier began with a brief apology for his United Conservative Party government's controversial decision to be the first of all provinces to lift almost all public-health restrictions tied to COVID-19 at the start of July and declare Alberta "Open for summer." Kenney told the news conference Wednesday that his decision to move from a pandemic-to-endemic approach seemed like the right thing to do based on data from other jurisdictions with similar vaccination rates. "It is now clear that we were wrong, and for that I apologize," Kenney said.
  • However, Kenney later qualified that apology, saying that while it was a mistake to switch from pandemic management to endemic management too soon, he didn't believe it was wrong to lift almost all public health restrictions in July. "No, I don't apologize for the decision to relax public health restrictions in the summer … when numbers were declining and vaccine numbers were going up," he said. The COVID-19 numbers began to rise exponentially about two weeks after Alberta lifted all restrictions.
  • Even though Kenney and the UCP government have for months opposed repeated calls from doctors, the Opposition NDP and business groups to introduce a provincial vaccine passport as some other provinces have done, Kenney said Wednesday his government has "reluctantly decided" to institute what it called a "proof-of-vaccinationprogram.
  • Businesses and social events that are eligible can choose whether to implement this program, called the Restrictions Exemption Program (REP). If they do, vaccine-eligible Albertans will be required to provide government-issued proof of immunization or a negative COVID-19 test to patronize businesses and social events and it will be largely business as usual for the vaccinated.

WATCH | Kenney introduces new measures to stop spread of COVID-19:

'I apologize,' Kenney says as Alberta declares state of public health emergency

1 year ago
Duration 1:58
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney on Wednesday introduced strict and sweeping new measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 as he apologized for his government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • To enter these establishments, which include restaurants, bars and indoor organized events, people aged 12 and older will be required to show their proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result.
  • A QR code for proof of vaccination will be made available in the coming weeks, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said — similar to the vaccine passport systems announced months ago by Quebec and weeks ago by B.C. The printable immunization record on the My Health Alberta website will not be available until Sunday morning, Shandro said, as improvements to the website are being made. 
  • Kenney also said he's proud of how Alberta has handled the pandemic compared to much of the rest of the world, saying that up until now, the province's fatality rate has been lower than the Canadian average and much lower than that in the U.S. and some other countries without "damaging restrictions."

How the restrictions and exemptions will work:

Some of the broad strokes of the new restrictions include:

As of Sept. 16:

  • Private social gatherings:   
    • Indoor private gatherings for vaccine-eligible, fully vaccinated people are limited to a single household plus one other household to a maximum of 10 people, with no restrictions on children under the age of 12.
    • Attendance at any indoor private social gathering is not permitted for vaccine-eligible individuals who are unvaccinated.
    • Outdoor private social gatherings are permitted to a maximum of 200 people, with two-metre physical distancing maintained at all times.
  • Workplaces:   
    • Work-from-home measures are mandatory unless the employer has decided a physical presence is required for operational reasons.
  • Places of worship:
  • Must limit attendance to one-third fire code capacity.
  • Face masks will be mandatory and there must be two-metre physical distancing between households or two close contacts for those living alone.
  • Outdoor events:   
    • No attendance restrictions, but two-metre physical distancing adhered to.
  • Schools (K-12):   
    • Mandatory masking for students in Grades 4 and up, as well as staff and teachers in all grades. Schools that can implement an alternate COVID safety plan can be exempted from mandatory masking.
    • Elementary schools must implement class cohorting.
    • For physical activities in schools, youth aged 18 and under are not required to mask or maintain two-metre distance when engaged in physical activity.
    • There are no restrictions on outdoor activities.
    • Indoor sports/performance/recreation/special interests are permitted with requirements for two-metre physical distancing, where possible.

As of Sept. 20:

  • Restaurants:   
    • Restaurants that choose to implement the Restrictions Exemption Program can operate as usual when it comes to vaccine-eligible Albertans with proof of vaccination.
    • Otherwise:     
      • Outdoor dining only with a maximum of six individuals per table (one household or two close contacts for those living alone).
      • Liquor sales to end at 10 p.m. and consumption at 11 p.m. 
  • Weddings and funerals:   
    • Hosting facilities that choose to implement the Restrictions Exemption Program can operate as usual when it comes to vaccine-eligible Albertans with proof of vaccination.
    • Otherwise:     
      • All indoor ceremonies and services are limited to 50 attendees or 50 per cent fire code capacity, whichever is less.
      • No indoor receptions are permitted.
      • All outdoor ceremonies and services for weddings and funerals must be limited to 200 attendees.
  • Retail, entertainment and recreation facilities such as libraries, nightclubs and casinos:   
    • Hosting facilities that choose to implement the Restrictions Exemption Program can operate as usual when it comes to vaccine-eligible Albertans with proof of vaccination.
    • Otherwise:     
      • Limited to one-third fire code capacity, attendees are only permitted to attend with their household or two close contacts for those living alone.
      • People must be masked and keep two-metre physical distancing between households.
  • Adult sports, fitness and recreation:   
    • Facilities that implement the Restrictions Exemption Program can operate as usual when it comes to vaccine-eligible Albertans with proof of vaccination.
    • Otherwise:     
      • No indoor group classes or activities are permitted.
      • One-on-one training or individual workouts are permitted but three-metre physical distancing is required.
      • No contact between players; no indoor competitions except where case-by-case vaccine exemptions have been granted.
  • A full list of restrictions and exemptions is available on the government's website

The latest COVID-19 numbers:

  • Alberta reported 1,718 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, out of 16,364 tests. 
  • Alberta reported 10 more deaths from COVID on Thursday. A total of 2,505 Albertans have died of COVID-19. 
  • The positivity rate was 10.6 per cent.
  • The province is leading the country by a wide margin in daily new COVID cases and active cases. 
  • There were 18,706 active cases across Alberta, the highest count in the country.
  • By comparison, Ontario, a province with more than three times the population, has one-third the number of active cases.
  • There were 896 people being treated in hospital, 222 of whom were in intensive care beds. 
  • Of those in hospital, 78 per cent are partially vaccinated or unvaccinated, Hinshaw said Thursday. 
  • The R-value, which represents the average number of people infected by each infected person, was 1.12 (with a confidence interval of 1.1 to 1.14) for Aug. 30 to Sept. 5.
  • 254,327 Albertans are considered to have recovered from COVID-19.​​​​
  • Critically ill patients are now regularly being airlifted out of the Red Deer hospital as it fills up with COVID-19 patients. The number of COVID patients in the hospital there jumped 65 per cent in the last week.
  • The province is preparing to activate its triage protocol, which means health-care workers will have to decide which patients are given potentially life-saving interventions like ventilators.
  • Non-emergency surgeries have been cut by as much as 60 per cent provincewide and the Calgary health zone has cancelled all non-urgent procedures for the rest of the week.
  • After cancelling in-person learning for the rest of this week in the wake of the new provincial rules, the University of Calgary announced Thursday that its on-campus classes will resume Sept. 20 because its previously announced protocols — including mandatory masking, vaccination or enrolment in regular rapid testing — has been determined to meet the province's standards for exemption from the restrictions.
  • Multiple Alberta post-secondaries announced late Wednesday that they were cancelling all in-person classes for the remainder of this week, in response to the provincial government implementing new COVID-19 restrictions and declaring a state of emergency. The U of C, MRU and other universities had previously announced plans for students and staff to provide proof of vaccination in the coming weeks. SAIT said it will also close its campuses for the remainder of the week due to the public health emergency, and the University of Lethbridge and Medicine Hat College cancelled in-person classes.
  • In Edmonton, the University of Alberta said all in-person classes would be cancelled for Thursday and further clarification will be communicated about the status of classes and activities for Friday as well as the university's requirements and procedures for complying with the province's new proof of vaccination program effective Monday.
  • There are ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at a number of primary and secondary schools across the province.
  • The province says that as of Wednesday there were COVID outbreaks at 17 AHS and Covenant Health acute care facilities. At one of the hardest hit, Rockyview General Hospital in Calgary, four patient deaths had been linked to the outbreak as of Thursday while at least 29 people in four units have tested positive (21 patients and eight health-care workers).

The latest on vaccines:

  • As of Thursday, 60.8 per cent of all Albertans (or 71.5 per cent of those eligible) have received two doses of a COVID vaccine, and 67.7 per cent of all Albertans (or 79.6 per cent of those eligible) have received at least one dose.
  • Those are still the lowest numbers in the country, save for Nunavut. Canada-wide, 68.7 per cent of the total population (or 78.6 per cent of those eligible) have received two doses of vaccine, and 74.7 per cent of the total population (or 85.5 per cent of those eligible) received at least one dose, according to the CBC's vaccine tracker.
  • Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, says pregnant people are at high risk of very serious illness and are urging them to get their COVID-19 vaccinations. An unvaccinated pregnant Alberta woman died from a COVID-related infection following admission into intensive care units, sources familiar with the death say.
  • Dr. Eliana Castillo, a clinical associate professor with the departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Medicine at the University of Calgary, says the proportion of unvaccinated pregnant women in Alberta admitted into the ICU is rising dramatically as the pandemic surges.
  • Alberta Health Services announced on Sept. 7 it would require all employees and contracted health-care providers — including physicians — to be fully vaccinated.
  • The Alberta government is making a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine available for immunocompromised Albertans and for all seniors living in congregate care facilities.
  • In addition, mRNA doses — that's Pfizer or Moderna — will be made available to Albertans travelling to a jurisdiction that does not accept visitors vaccinated with AstraZeneca, Covishield, or mixed doses.

See which regions are being hit hardest:

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

  • Edmonton zone: 5,441.
  • Calgary zone: 5,383.
  • North zone: 3,261.
  • Central zone: 2,758.
  • South zone: 1,823.
  • Unknown: 40.

Here are the latest Alberta COVID-19 stories:

With files from The Canadian Press


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