'Very broad support' for Alberta Health Services mandatory vaccine policy, president says
1,200 workers seeking accommodations on medical or religious grounds
About 92 per cent of all staff at Alberta Health Services have submitted proof they have had two doses of COVID-19 vaccinations as required under a policy introduced in August.
Seven per cent of staff have yet to submit proof of vaccination, while less than one per cent — about 1,200 staffers — have requested accommodation on medical or religious grounds, AHS president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu told a news conference Tuesday.
Yiu said 61 employees have resigned their positions specifically because of the vaccination policy. That includes 31 staffers in clinical roles; 11 of them are registered nurses.
"Overall this tells us that there is very broad support for the mandatory vaccine policy," Yiu said of the numbers.
She said AHS stands by the policy and reiterated that employees who aren't fully immunized without being granted an accommodation will be placed on an unpaid leave of absence.
"With such low numbers, we don't anticipate the policy of having any significant impact on our ability to provide care to Albertans."
AHS announced Aug. 31 it would require all employees and contracted health-care providers — including physicians — to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The deadline for complying is Oct. 31.
The policy applies to AHS, Alberta Precision Labs, Carewest, CapitalCare and Covenant Health workers, members of medical and midwifery staffs, students, volunteers and anyone acting on their behalf.
531 new cases
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, reported 531 new cases of COVID-19 at Tuesday's news conference.
Hinshaw said 8,030 tests were conducted with a positivity rate of 6.7 per cent.
Twelve new deaths were reported Tuesday.
There are 11,402 active cases of the disease in Alberta, which is down by more than 10,000 cases from the fourth wave peak on Sept. 27.
There are currently 964 patients in hospital with COVID-19, including 218 in intensive care units.
Here's how the active cases break down across the province:
- Calgary zone: 2,891
- Edmonton zone: 2,717
- North zone: 2,398
- Central zone: 2,209
- South zone: 1,175
- Unknown: 12
Premier Jason Kenney told Tuesday's news conference he is encouraged by the declining number of active cases.
"All of this is good news, but we still have a long way to go," Kenney said. "We continue to identify hundreds of new cases every day and cases could rise sharply if Albertans stop following the current public health measures in place.
"There are still more COVID patients in hospital today than during the peak of any other wave."
He said it will be many weeks before the province sees a big change in hospital numbers.
"Alberta Health Services has thousands of postponed surgeries that it will need to resume as soon as possible," he said.
Yiu said pressures on the health-care system continue to ease slightly. There are 376 general ICU beds in the province, 75 per cent of which are occupied, she said.
"While we have seen the number of COVID patients in ICU come down over the past couple of weeks, we continue to see high numbers of Albertans need ICU care for non-COVID reasons," Yiu said.
She said that was partly due to a slight increase in surgeries. "This is what our system is designed for and as pressures created by COVID decrease, we are able to use more of our ICU beds for their intended purpose."
New rules for continuing care
The province is introducing new rules to keep residents in continuing care facilities safe from COVID-19.
Effective Oct. 25, masking will be required for visitors at continuing care facilities at all times, including in residents' rooms.
Residents will be required to quarantine after being admitted to the facility or returning from a hospital stay longer than 24 hours. The quarantine will last until they test negative for COVID-19 with a PCR test administered by AHS, Hinshaw said.
Health officials are strongly encouraging unvaccinated family and friends to not visit residents in person. Facility operators can implement more rules, such as requiring proof of vaccination.