Albertans must embrace 2 realities, Hinshaw says on province's second COVID-19 anniversary

On the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic reaching Alberta, Dr. Deena Hinshaw tried to reconcile an "extraordinary" past two years with an uncertain future.

AHS will no longer require proof of vaccination or rapid testing for staff

Health Minister Jason Copping and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, updated Albertans on COVID-19 Tuesday. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta, Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

On the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic reaching Alberta, Dr. Deena Hinshaw tried Tuesday to reconcile an "extraordinary" past two years with an uncertain future.

"Two years ago today, I shared the news that we had our first officially confirmed case of COVID-19 in Alberta and that we had a total of four presumptive cases," Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, told a news conference.

"At that time we had no vaccines, we had no antivirals and we still had much to learn about the virus," she said.

"What we've seen over the past two years is extraordinary."

Despite getting ahead of the virus enough to lift nearly all pandemic public health measures as of March 1, there is no one right way forward, Hinshaw said.

"We no longer need to respond to COVID as the biggest health threat we collectively face, and yet we still need to mitigate its direct impacts.

"This might seem contradictory, and this is part of why finding our way forward is so hard."

Albertans must embrace two realities at once, Hinshaw said.

"One is that COVID is still a threat to take seriously, and the other is that the COVID population risk has been reduced and we can move to seeing COVID as one risk among many — one we cannot fully eliminate, but that we can manage."

At the same news conference, Health Minister Jason Copping announced that effective 4 p.m. Thursday, Alberta Health Services will no longer require proof of COVID-19 vaccination or regular rapid testing of its workers.

Copping also announced that youth aged 12 to 17 can begin receiving a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine beginning March 14, as long as it's a minimum of five months since their second dose.

The province reported seven new COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, bringing the total number of Albertans who have died of COVID-19 to 3,979.

As of Tuesday, there were 1,106 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 77 in ICU, numbers similar to those reported Monday.

The test-positivity rate is at 20.5 per cent.

Reopening plan

The province launched Step 2 of its reopening plan last week.

As of March 1,  the provincewide mask mandate, indoor gathering restrictions, the work from home mandate and remaining capacity limits are no longer in effect.

Premier Jason Kenney has said the province is working toward a third stage where people with COVID-19 would no longer be required to isolate, and COVID-19 operational and outbreak protocols will be lifted in continuing care facilities.

A date has not been set for the implementation of the final step but Kenney has said any further easing of restrictions will be contingent on hospitalization trends.

With Step 2, masking is still required in high-risk settings including Alberta Health Services-operated and contracted facilities, all continuing care settings, and on public transit.

On Tuesday, Edmonton city council voted to rescind its face-covering bylaw.