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Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Thursday, Sept. 23

Alberta has 20,180 active cases of COVID-19, and its critical care facilities have been pushed well past normal capacity. There are 1,058 people being treated in hospital, 226 of whom are in intensive care beds.

226 people are in intensive care due to the virus

June Churchley, 79, receives the COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 24, 2021, in Red Deer. (AHS)

The latest on Alberta's COVID-19 response:

  • Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, and AHS president Dr. Verna Yiu provided a COVID-19 update on Thursday. 
  • There were 17 new deaths reported. One was a woman in her 30s who had no known pre-existing conditions, AHS said. 
  • Hinshaw said 100 per cent of new ICU admissions were among Albertans who have not gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. 
  • Unprecedented patient demand is continuing to strain Alberta hospitals, Yiu said Thursday. 
  • Officials with Alberta Health Services (AHS) confirmed to CBC News on Wednesday that ICUs in the central zone are operating at 100 per cent of capacity. The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, the zone's main facility, has 26 ICU beds, including 14 additional spaces. 
  • Last week it was disclosed that COVID-19 patients in Red Deer are often having to be airlifted to other hospitals because of the strained capacity.
  • Provincially, ICU capacity is at 89 per cent, including additional surge beds. Without the additional spaces, provincial ICU admissions would be at 179 per cent of capacity, AHS said.
    • The north zone is also operating at more than 100 per cent of capacity, according to figures obtained Wednesday. It has 15 ICU spaces (including nine extra) split between Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie.
    • The Edmonton zone, which has 150 ICU beds (including 78 extra), is operating at 92 per cent capacity.
    • The Calgary zone, with 123 ICU beds (including 57 extra) is at 76 per cent of capacity.
    • The south zone, with 34 ICU beds (including 17 extra) is at 82 per cent of capacity.
  • The province has updated its daily symptom screening checklist. It now recommends household contacts of those with COVID-19 quarantine for 14 days if they are not vaccinated, or partially vaccinated. 
  • Yiu said the province is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases in children between the ages of 10 and 19. She said AHS supports schools creating in-school vaccination clinics. 
  • Calgary city council approved a vaccine passport bylaw Wednesday that applies the province's program consistently across many businesses in the city.
  • It means people going to restaurants, bars, casinos, movie theatres and sporting events must show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result to enter. Those who don't comply can receive a $500 fine. Peace officers will be enforcing the rules.
  • On Tuesday, Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver announced on Twitter that the province has formally asked Ottawa for help in managing the emergency.
  • "As part of Alberta's ongoing efforts to boost health care capacity during the public health emergency, we have formally asked the federal government to assist us with patient transfers and critical care staff," he said.
  • Alberta's fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit 20,180 active cases on Thursday — more than twice as many as any other province or territory.
  • Ontario Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott confirmed on Sept. 17 that Ontario would be providing assistance to help Alberta's crippled health-care system.
  • B.C. says it won't be able to take any of Alberta's intensive care unit patients at a time when that province's own hospitals are also struggling.
  • Alberta Premier Jason Kenney faced down a caucus revolt on Wednesday, as factions within his United Conservative Party coalesced in opposition to his leadership — but a reckoning was put off to another day. Dave Prisco, UCP director of communications, said Kenney requested that the 2022 UCP AGM take place in the spring and that the scheduled leadership review occur at that time.
  • Tyler Shandro resigned as minister of health on Tuesday afternoon. He has been moved into the labour and immigration portfolio.
  • Jason Copping, the previous minister of labour and immigration, has taken Shandro's place. Copping said he was profoundly honoured to step into the role, and that he's committed to steering Alberta through its public health crisis. Copping said he intends to permanently increase hospital capacity. 
  • The province's restrictions exemption program (REP) came into effect Monday, allowing some businesses and venues to ask patrons for proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in order to operate largely without health restrictions.
  • Kenney introduced the program last Wednesday when he declared Alberta was once again in a state of public health emergency.
  • Kenney's government imposed strict and sweeping measures (see details below) to combat the fourth wave of COVID-19 and stave off the ongoing crisis in the health-care system.
  • Operators who are eligible for the program, but opt not to take part, will have to follow measures that include capacity limits and physical distancing (more details are provided below).

WATCH | Trying to simplify Alberta's 'restriction exemption program'

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There is a long list of dos and don'ts if you're venturing out to exercise, eat out, or enjoy a show. Alberta's restriction exemption program is at the forefront, but there are many lingering questions about how it will work. 4:36
  • COVID-19 vaccine records became available online Sunday for Albertans looking to print a paper copy.
  • Alternatively, a digital copy of vaccine records is available on the MyHealthRecords smartphone app.
  • Albertans are now able to visit a local registry agent to request a printed version of their vaccination card at no cost. They will need to provide the month and year of any dose of vaccination, their Alberta Personal Health Number and their date of birth.
  • 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. 
  • On Oct. 25, proof of two doses or a negative test will be required.
  • Those who want to show a negative COVID-19 test rather than a proof of vaccination must have one that was paid for privately, not via Alberta Health Services or Alberta Precision Laboratories.
  • It must be a Health Canada-approved rapid antigen, rapid PCR or lab-based PCR test completed within the previous 72 hours.
  • The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta has lost patience with doctors who have actively undermined the province's response to the pandemic.
  • At an emergency meeting of the college's council Monday, council members unanimously supported issuing a strongly worded warning letter to doctors who spread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines or advise patients not to get vaccinated, improperly issue exemptions for vaccines and masks, or refuse to be vaccinated or wear masks.

How the restrictions and exemptions 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, nightclubs and pubs:
    • Venues 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.
  • Entertainment and recreation facilities such as museums, movie theatres 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.
  • Retail and shopping malls, places of worship, hotels and personal services are some examples of venues and businesses that are not eligible to participate in the program.
  • They must follow health restrictions that include physical distancing and capacity limits.
  • A full list of restrictions and exemptions is available on the government's website

The latest COVID-19 numbers:

  • There were 20,180 active cases across Alberta on Thursday, the highest count in the country.
  • Alberta reported 1,660 new cases of COVID-19 out of 17,896 tests.
  • Alberta reported 17 more deaths from COVID. 
  • A total of 2,611 Albertans have died of COVID. 
  • The positivity rate was 9.42 per cent.
  • The province is leading the country by a wide margin in daily new COVID cases and active cases. 
  • There were 1,058 people being treated in hospital226 of whom were in intensive care beds. 
  • Of those in hospital, 77 per cent are partially vaccinated or unvaccinated, Hinshaw said Thursday. 
  • Provincewide, the R-value was 1.04 (with a confidence interval of 1.02 to 1.06) as of Sept. 13-19. In Edmonton, the R-value is 0.97, while in Calgary it's 0.94 . The rest of Alberta has an R-value of 1.15
  • 263,915 Albertans are considered to have recovered from COVID-19.​​​​
  • 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.
  • Alberta Health Services said Sept. 17 that the only surgeries happening in the province are those that must be done within a three-day window.
  • The Calgary Board of Education is calling on the province to implement additional COVID-19 measures in schools, after more than 350 COVID-19 cases were reported in the first few weeks.
  • 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.
  • Both SAIT and Mount Royal University (MRU) in Calgary likewise announced late Thursday that they will be returning to in-person learning.

The latest on vaccines:

  • 62.3 per cent of the province's total population have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, or 73.2 per cent of those eligible. Out of the province's total population, 69.8 per cent have received at least one dose, or 82 per cent of those eligible.
  • Canada-wide, 75.5 per cent of the total population have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 69.6 of the total population are fully vaccinated, according to the CBC's vaccine tracker. Alberta has the lowest percentage of its eligible population in the country to be vaccinated, and the third lowest of its total population, behind Saskatchewan and Nunavut.
  • Alberta is expanding the number of immunocompromised people who are eligible for a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The full list of eligible people can be found on the province's website
  • In addition, mRNA doses — that's Pfizer or Moderna — are available to Albertans travelling to a jurisdiction that does not accept visitors vaccinated with AstraZeneca, Covishield, or mixed doses.
  • The Alberta premier said COVID-19 vaccine bookings have nearly tripled in the province since he announced the new passport system.
  • 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.

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: 5,549.
  • Calgary zone: 5,224.
  • North zone: 3,620.
  • Central zone: 3,591.
  • South zone: 2,178.
  • Unknown: 18.

Here are the latest Alberta COVID-19 stories:

With files from The Canadian Press

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