With no post-holiday surge, Alberta's COVID-19 numbers appear to be on right track
But with 800 patients in hospital, experts say trends need to continue for some time
Fears of a post-holiday COVID-19 surge appear not to have materialized in Alberta, and experts say current trends are encouraging, but the province still has some way to go before major public-health measures can be safely lifted.
"We look at this big picture and what it's suggesting is that what we're doing in Alberta is working," said Dr. Craig Jenne, an associate professor of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary.
He noted that new daily case numbers have been steadily coming down for several weeks now and, while hospitalizations remain relatively high, they appear to have peaked and have started to decline, as well, albeit somewhat slowly.
"They're not coming down as fast as we want," Jenne said.
"But at least they're not going up."
The province plans to relax, slightly, the limits on outdoor gatherings, funerals and personal-care services effective Monday, but Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said it's too soon to lift the major restrictions that were put in effect in December.
Some people have questioned whether Alberta's lower test volumes recently are behind the decrease in cases.
Hinshaw acknowledged the province has been doing fewer tests lately, but noted the percentage of tests coming back positive has also been steadily declining, which suggests the viral spread is indeed slowing.
"We have no backlog in our lab," Hinshaw said earlier this week. "So our lab is processing all of the samples in a timely way."
Before the holidays, Premier Jason Kenney admitted he was concerned that Albertans might misunderstand or disregard the rules restricting family gatherings.
"I am concerned, to be blunt, about what we might see coming out of Christmas," he said in December.
But it appears Albertans generally followed the rules and limited the spread of the virus. A post-holiday spike in cases would be expected to have shown up in the data by now, but so far there has been no major increase.
"The reduction in our positivity rate is encouraging," Hinshaw said. "The reduction in our new daily cases is also encouraging."
Still, Jenne believes the numbers need to come down a lot more before public-health measures can be significantly relaxed.
"It's unclear if we've gotten the numbers down far enough to fully reopen things, but the plan is working," he said.
"And if we can stick to it, if we can continue with this plan, we should expect these trends of declining numbers to continue."
Hinshaw echoed that.
"Albertans, again, have shown that when we've worked together and followed these restrictions, we have brought our cases down," she said.
"But we can't ease up on following those public health measures, or our trends will start to rise again."