EDMONTON -- With nearly 750 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, the province has finalized plans for Canadian Red Cross to set up an "alternate care centre," or tent hospital, at the University of Alberta's Butterdome.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Wednesday the facility would create 100 more inpatient beds if needed, but that there were no plans to staff the site as of yet.

"This is a purely precautionary measure for use if needed in the future."

The tent hospital will take several weeks to set up, Hinshaw said.

The Butterdome was used as an assessment centre in the spring.

The province confirmed 1,270 new cases of COVID-19 over some 17,500 tests in 24 hours.

Its positivity rate has dropped to 7.3 per cent, although 749 people remain in hospital with the disease. Of those, 139 are receiving intensive care.

Alberta's top doctor also reported 16 new deaths related to COVID-19, bringing the total death tally since March to 760.

"It is a sobering statistic that in less than 10 months, more Albertans have died from COVID-19 than have died from influenza in the last 10 years combined."

While Hinshaw said no demographic is the sole reason cases in the province rose, she reminded the public that it does affect every age group – including young adults who aren't even the most vulnerable.

"In Alberta to date, more than 32,000 people between the ages of 20 and 39 have contracted COVID-19. More than 380 of them have been hospitalized. And sadly, eight of these have died," she said. "To put this in perspective, if you gathered every Albertan between the ages of 20 and 39 who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, they would fill the Saddledome in Calgary, the Centrium in Red Deer and the Enmax Centre in Lethbridge."


With the first 3,900 Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses already administered in the province, and another 25,350 to arrive next week, Hinshaw took several minutes to reassure Albertans it had gone through rigorous checks at both the provincial and federal level.

Respiratory therapists, ICU staff and physicians, and long-term care and supportive living staff of designated facilities were among the first immunized.

Some of the 25,350 doses arriving next will be kept to be administered as the second dose for those who received the vaccine this week. The rest will be given to priority health care workers across the province. As the province is given the green light to transport the vaccine – which needs to be refrigerated at ultra-cold temperatures – it will look at immunizing residents of long-term and supportive living facilities.

As the first months of the new year go on, the vaccine will be available to more health care workers like home care staff and ER workers. In part 'B' of the first rollout phase, any Albertan aged 75 or older will be offered the vaccine, as well as those aged 65 or older on First Nations and Metis settlements, and workers in COVID-19 wards. The focus, Hinshaw said, will be people at highest risk of severe outcomes of contracting COVID-19 and the people who care for them or who are in shortest supply across the health care system.  

Hinshaw said the second phase of rollout could include first responders and frontline professionals as soon as April, but that those specific groups would be decided in the new year.

"As more vaccine is available and as potentially new vaccines are licensed, we may be able to shift those dates, if things move more quickly than anticipated. But at this point, that is our anticipated timeline."

She confirmed some "groups" have requested expedited access. Alberta Health would be considering their services when it made decisions for Phase 2, Hinshaw said.

Hinshaw urged Albertans to get immunized when a vaccine is available to the general public.

"There is overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccination is the best defense against serious infections. We're taking every precaution, and acting on clear evidence showing this vaccine is safe for Albertans, and it works.

"When it is your turn, please get immunized. There's an act of kindness for yourself, for your loved ones and for your community."