6-fold spike in COVID-19 infection in southern Alberta 'very concerning,' says Lethbrige mayor

Concerns are growing about the spread of COVID-19 in Alberta's south health zone, where the number of active cases has jumped by 534 per cent since the beginning of the month.

Southern Alberta city has highest rate of active cases of all major cities in province

Lethbrige Mayor Chris Spearman says the surge in COVID-19 infections in his city has him concerned. (Dave Gilson/CBC )

Concerns are growing about the spread of COVID-19 in Alberta's south health zone, where the number of active cases has jumped more than six-fold since the beginning of the month.

In the south zone — which includes Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Brooks and stretches from the Crowsnest Pass to the Saskatchewan boundary — the number of active cases rose from 32 on Oct. 1 to 203 as of Tuesday. That's an uptick of 534 per cent.

"The numbers are certainly very concerning," said Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman.

Lethbridge has the highest rate of active cases of all larger cities in the province, at 148.5 per 100,000 people. Edmonton has the second highest rate, at 133 per 100,000.

Chestermere, a small city that borders Calgary, has 110 cases per 100,000.

Spearman says there were no cases in the city two weeks ago. Now, there are more than 140 active infections. There are three people in hospital across the south zone with two of them in ICU, according to AHS.

"We're going to be increasing our communication to our residents to help them understand that the second wave is certainly here and we need to do everything as a community to get through it," he said.

That includes following public health guidelines and wearing a mask, Spearman says.

He said there has been some resistance to the city's mandatory mask bylaw. In September, a city council meeting was interrupted by a crowd of 60 to 80 people as they staged a brief occupation of the chambers in order to protest the bylaw.

Spearman says a faith gathering outside the city sparked a number of cases, which then spread into the city.

Dr. Vivien Suttorp, the lead medical officer of health for the south zone, says transmission among family members in homes and social gatherings are also playing a key role.

"Now we're seeing … outfalls of the Thanksgiving weekend. So it may be weddings or large gatherings or big parties," she said.

And it will be even more of a concern as the holiday season gets closer.

Alberta broke two COVID-19 records on Wednesday, for the most new cases in a single day, 406, and for the most active cases.

The previous single-day record for reported new cases was 356, on Oct.18. During the first wave of the pandemic, the province hit 351 new cases on April 23.

There were 3,372 active cases in the province on Wednesday. The previous record was set Tuesday, with 3,203.

A total of 113 people were being treated in hospitals on Wednesday, including 16 in ICU beds.

The province also said a government minister has tested positive for the illness and Premier Jason Kenney was in self-isolation. 

Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard  tested positive and was experiencing mild symptoms, while Kenney's office confirmed to CBC News on Wednesday night that the premier tested negative but would continue isolating at his home in Edmonton until the afternoon of Oct. 29. 

Among the others self-isolating because they had interactions with Allard last week are Transportation Minister Ric McIver, United Conservative Party MLAs Angela Pitt, Peter Guthrie and Nathan Neudorff, and some members of Airdrie's city council.

With files from Jennifer Lee


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