EDMONTON -- As the province nears 800 COVID-19-related deaths, its chief medical officer of health is using the sobering statistic to encourage Albertans to follow public health orders over the holidays.

"This year we can and must celebrate differently. Holiday gatherings with people outside of your household are not only against the restrictions that are in place, they are also the wrong thing to do right now," Dr. Deena Hinshaw said during Thursday's pandemic update.

"We have seen time and time again examples of people attending a gathering with either mild symptoms – like headaches or a stuffy nose that they didn't connect with COVID-19 – or when they were in the day or two before their symptoms started, when they were infectious but didn’t know it. The result has been one case spreading to many. That is how cases rise and outbreaks start."

Under Alberta's current public health orders, gatherings are restricted to the people within a household. Those who live alone are allowed to have two close contacts.

The rules are not recommendations, Hinshaw reminded the public, but legal restrictions.

That afternoon, she reported 1,571 new cases of COVID-19 in the province amongst 19,800 tests.

The number of people with the disease in a hospital rose to 763, 138 of whom are in ICUs.

A record number of deaths was reported to Alberta Health Services the previous day: 30. The tally of Albertans who have died with COVID-19 since March is 790.

"This is heartbreaking figure," Hinshaw said.

"If anyone still needs reminding of the seriousness of this virus, of the importance of the restrictions that are currently in place, and the importance of doing everything possible to limit our interactions and break the chains of transmission, this is it."


About 10 per cent of the province's first Pfizer vaccines have been administered, according to Hinshaw.

As of Wednesday night, 394 health workers had received their first of two doses of the vaccine.

Alberta's top doctor said there have been a few cases where prioritized workers have not been called and offered the shot – and others have – but that "issues like this are not unexpected" given the process is done manually. She advised anyone in this situation to talk to their manager.

She credited the province's single health authority model for a so-far smooth rollout.

Hinshaw added the system has for years used a vaccination tracking program which leaves Alberta "very well positioned to be able to track all of that information and to be able to make sure that we know at any given time exactly how many doses of which lots and which types of vaccine are present in any location in Alberta."

The first shipments of 3,900 Pfizer vials arrived late Monday.