Next few weeks are critical in preventing a 3rd wave of COVID-19, Hinshaw says

Indoor social gatherings, absence of precautions and a growing number of variants are a problematic combination, says Alberta's chief medical officer of health

'Simply put, cases are rising sharply and we must curb the current rate of infection'

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, updated the province's response to COVID-19 at a news conference Thursday. (Government of Alberta)

The next few weeks are critical in preventing a third wave of COVID-19 cases in Alberta, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday.

"The coming weeks will really tell us that story, and we certainly are seeing some concerning early trends," Alberta's chief medical officer of health said. 

"A couple of weeks ago, we saw week-over-week rises in our new cases, followed by a stabilization. And so right now, again, we're in a very, very critical time and our collective actions now will determine what we see in the weeks ahead."

Hinshaw pointed to an explosion in cases in Lethbridge over the last three weeks. 

Three weeks ago, on Feb. 25, Lethbridge had 196 active cases, Hinshaw said. On Wednesday, the community reached 469 active cases.

"Simply put, cases are rising sharply and we must curb the current rate of infection," she said.

"While there is no single cause of the spike, local health officials have let me know that many of these cases are linked to family gatherings and visitation between households, people with mild symptoms who do not stay home or get tested right away, or faith gatherings where masking and distancing is not happening.

"The rise in cases is a reminder that the actions of a small number of people can have a far-reaching impact," she said.

Hinshaw said she is frequently hearing the argument that because most people who catch COVID-19 recover, there shouldn't be as much concern about its spread.

"The reality is that it is this very fact of most people having mild symptoms that makes COVID-19 so dangerous for our communities," she said, noting that people who aren't showing symptoms pass it to friends and families, who then pass it on to others.

"If COVID-19 made most people who caught it extremely sick, this would make it much less likely to spread," she said.

"As it actually behaves, it can spread like wildfire, and until we have enough vaccine to offer protection to the most vulnerable Albertans, widespread transmission would still mean surges in hospitalizations, ICU admissions and even deaths.

"I don't ask Albertans to fear COVID-19. I ask us all to respect it."

Latest case numbers

On Thursday, Alberta reported 505 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the number of active cases in the province to 5,084. 

Of the new cases, 91 involved the highly infectious variant strains of the virus, the highest number recorded yet, which now accounts for 12 per cent of all active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta.

"I am concerned about this trend," Hinshaw said. "We do need to continue to watch those, and use that information to help all of us make decisions about what we do every day."

To date, 1,169 cases involving variants of concern have been identified. Of those, 575 people have recovered while 14 have died.

There are 264 people in hospital with the disease and 43 in intensive care.

One more person has died, a man in his 60s in the south zone. 

Earlier this week, Hinshaw described Alberta's response to COVID-19 as a race between the variants strains and vaccinations.

Vaccines cannot prevent 3rd wave

About 418,500 doses of vaccines have been administered in the province so far.

Hinshaw said despite large-scale efforts to distribute vaccines, individual behaviour will continue to define the future of the pandemic. 

"Many European countries are seeing a third wave in cases, hospitalization pressures and deaths, despite being somewhat ahead of us with vaccine coverage in their populations," she said.

"I ask all of us not to waste the sacrifices that have been made in this past year by ignoring the public health measures in place that are still very much needed.

"It is essential that residents, not just in Lethbridge but in all of Alberta, not participate in any indoor social gatherings and follow the public health orders in place.

"It is the everyday choices that matter for all of us, and make no mistake, each one of us matters."


  • Dr. Deena Hinshaw incorrectly reported the number of active cases in Lethbridge on Feb. 25 in the daily briefing. The story now contains the correct number.
    Mar 18, 2021 4:47 PM MT


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?