Alta. COVID-19 numbers back to early-Dec. levels, health-care system still under strain: Hinshaw
Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the COVID-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday, March 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
EDMONTON -- Although more than 11,000 Albertans have been fully immunized for COVID-19 and infection and hospitalization rates are falling, officials are warning the province's health-care system is still stressed.
In total, the province has administered more than 101,000 shots since December, Alberta's chief medical officer of health said Wednesday.
That afternoon, Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported 459 new cases of COVID-19. On Tuesday, labs conducted some 12,800 tests, leaving Alberta with a positivity rate of 3.6 per cent.
Hospitalizations, too, have dropped – but, Hinshaw said, not enough to significantly reduce the strain on Alberta's health care system or justify easing restrictions.
Of news that several more businesses were defying public health orders with support of their local community and leadership, Hinshaw said the action could jeopardize Alberta's recent progress.
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"What I would say to those leaders is to think about not just what they see in front of them in their own town but to look at the province, and to recognize that every action that we take as individuals has repercussions and connections to our own communities and to the communities around us. And unfortunately, what we saw in the fall is that when we did take early targeted steps to try to minimize risk but not have businesses close, we continued to see our cases climb," Hinshaw said.
She reminded the public that on Dec. 30, Alberta's COVID-19 hospitalizations peaked at 943 people. Of those, 155 were in ICUs.
On Wednesday, Hinshaw said, 604 Albertans were in hospitals with the disease, 110 of whom were in intensive care units.
But the numbers are only on par with those seen on Dec. 4.
"This is encouraging news, and a signal that we are making meaningful progress," Hinshaw said.
"We saw our health-care system come very close to a tipping point. We want to avoid that and we need to make sure that we are taking slow measured steps."
She added Alberta Health was working on a "framework" that would help Albertans keep track of the metrics that would trigger more reopenings.
VARIANT, VACCINE UPDATE
There are 8,203 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta.
To date, more than 112,500 Albertans have recovered from the disease.
With the addition of 12 more deaths on Wednesday, the province's death tally rose to 1,599.
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Hinshaw had no update on Alberta's so far single, unsourced B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant case, for which officials have found no transmission outside the person's household.
"The knowledge that this particular variant of concern has been showing up in some other provinces and other countries around the world as a part of community transmission is concerning, and it does need to be factored into our decisions about timing of reopening," Hinshaw told reporters. "Because if we do enable more activities, more opportunities for people to be in close contact with one another, we could potentially see quicker spreads if the variant is here in more locations than we currently are aware of."
According to the latest data, reported at the beginning of the week, Alberta labs have confirmed 25 cases of the B.1.1.7 and 501Y-V2 strains first identified in the U.K. and South Africa. All but the one case have been linked to international travel.
Officials are calling immunization a key component of Alberta's ability to prepare for any spread of two new strains, but say the work is hampered by vaccine supply delays.
Hinshaw said some Albertans who are eligible for a second dose may not yet have been given an appointment because the province is waiting to confirm its supplies arriving in two weeks.
However, she said the goal was to still administer all second shots within the maximum interval tested.
"While I can't say with certainty at this point, what I can say is that everything possible will be done to provide that second dose to all who have had the first dose within that 42-day period."
The top doctor asked for all those waiting to remain patient with the system and province.