The health measures currently in place to battle the coronavirus aren’t likely to be sufficient in bringing down case numbers, Alberta’s top doctor said on Monday while reporting another 16 deaths from COVID-19.
The measures introduced nearly two weeks ago, including a ban on indoor gatherings, have not bent the curve as well as intended, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, explained during Monday’s news conference.
“So, we will need — if the goal is to bring our numbers down — we’ll need additional measures to be able to do that,” said Hinshaw. “I do believe we do need additional restrictions in order to bring our case numbers down and protect our health-care system.”
However, the province would be in an even worse place than it is now had the restrictions not been put in place, she added.
“Every time we avoid transmission, every time we avoid a super-spreader event, we are in a better place than we otherwise would have been.”
Another 1,735 cases of COVID-19 were reported Monday, with a positivity test rate of 8.5 per cent. With this, Alberta’s active case count toppled 20,000 for the first time, reaching 20,067.
Hinshaw is putting together a package of recommendations for further restrictions, but she reminded the public the final decisions will ultimately be made by the provincial cabinet.
Meanwhile, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said at city hall that he will not hesitate to take further actions to protect Calgarians if the province opts out.
“I’m giving (the province) a chance to do the right thing,” said Nenshi. “It would be very shocking to me if, given where the numbers are right now, the province would say, ‘Actually, don’t keep people safe.'”
Nenshi said city officials have broad powers to legislate when it’s a matter of protecting the health and the welfare of citizens. Those powers are rarely used because public health is a provincial responsibility; but if it comes down to it, Nenshi said he will take action.
The mayor has heard there was a provincial cabinet meeting on Monday so he expects an announcement with further measures on Tuesday.
“And if we don’t get one, I will call an emergency meeting of council for Wednesday or Thursday,” Nenshi said.
During the news conference, Hinshaw hinted more restrictions were coming but she wouldn’t add any details about when they would arrive or what they would look like.
This ban keeps people from meeting in backyards, parks and restaurants but still allows drive-thru holiday events.
Small number of vaccines arriving in Alberta this month
After receiving notice the federal government is likely sending about 3,900 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine to Alberta this month, Alberta Health is preparing one receiving site in Calgary and one in Edmonton to distribute this first supply.
Those who are at the top of the list to receive these first doses include health-care workers, where there is the greatest pressure on the system. More information on this will be coming, Hinshaw said.
This shipment would vaccinate just under 2,000 people because Pfizer’s vaccine requires two rounds of immunizations.
Paul Wynnyk, leader of Alberta’s vaccine task force, said all the logistics for receiving and distributing the vaccines are in place.
The provincial death toll for those reported to have died from COVID-19 now sits at 631, including the 16 new deaths disclosed Monday.
The health-care system continues to grapple with a growing number of hospitalizations. There are 609 patients in hospital due to health complications from the novel coronavirus, which includes 108 admitted to intensive-care units.
“The continued rise in new cases and hospitalization underscores the seriousness of the situation we now face,” said Hinshaw. “I will be blunt: So far, we are not bending the curve back down. We are still witnessing very high transmission of the virus, which is putting enormous pressure on our hospitals, intensive-care units and health-care workers.”
Meanwhile, B.C. health officials extended that province’s widespread ban on social gatherings outside of one’s immediate household, through the holiday season. It’s now set to end Jan. 8, 2021.
Rapid testing pilot projects have begun at COVID-19 assessment centres in St. Paul, Slave Lake, Calgary and Edmonton.
The rapid tests offer faster identification of positive cases, allowing health-care teams to prioritize the cases that are still infectious and focus efforts where they can have the greatest impact on preventing further transmission.
However, they are less accurate and more sensitive than the usual tests.
When asked about the R-value — the reproductive rate of the virus — Hinshaw said she did not have the number in front of her. Alberta Health did not respond to requests for information on the current R-value.