'Crossed a tipping point': Doctors question if new Alberta gathering limits go far enough amid continued record case counts
EDMONTON -- Some Alberta doctors say the province's new restrictions on gathering size in Calgary and Edmonton will help combat the growing COVID-19 numbers but also warn they may not go far enough.
On Monday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, announced indoor and outdoor gatherings would be limited social gatherings to a maximum of 15 people.
"We have now crossed a tipping point, and are losing the balance we have been seeking," Dr. Hinshaw told reporters.
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Dr. Hinshaw noted that "about a third" of recent cases have come "events where people are mixing and mingling."
The limits are in effect for a month and can also be lifted if case numbers in the two cities fall below 100 per day.
Some doctors called on Dr. Hinshaw to echo a move made in Monday in British Columbia, where the province limited gatherings in private homes to just six people.
"Six, plus or minus two, I would be happy to work with," said Dr. Darren Markland, who works in an intensive care unit.
"I think we need hard numbers and I wouldn't go over eight."
RECORD-BREAKING CASE COUNTS
The limits come among continued record breaking case counts in both Alberta and Edmonton.
In the past week alone, the province has broken its new daily case count five times. And, it's broken its active case count record every day since Oct. 18 and has grown by more than 1,500 cases since then to 4,738.
More worryingly, hospitalizations have reached record levels, and have exceeded 110 patients for the last 13 consecutive days.
And while testing remains high, the new cases can't be attributed to test volume alone given restrictions to asymptomatic testing announced in September.
Tuesday's 4.50% test positive rate was the highest since April 29.
Meanwhile, the Edmonton Zone (which is bigger than the city itself) has posted the highest active case counts of any health zone at any point in the pandemic the last two days.
The city's active case counts are also reaching record highs, growing by more than 550 cases in the space of a week.
Similar to the province, Edmonton's hospitalizations and test positive percentage are also cresting.
Tuesday's 64 patients in Edmonton Zone hospitals is tied for the highest day so far along with Oct. 18.
And, Edmonton has also recorded its two highest test positive percentages to date in the last two days.
'NECESSARY...TO SCARE PEOPLE'
Those numbers are a far cry from the double-digit case gains the city and province saw throughout much of the summer.
Experts say a combination of being forced indoors by winter weather and COVID-19 fatigue are causing people to lower their guard.
"I think it's actually necessary at this point to scare people," said infectious disease expert Dr. Lynora Saxinger.
She says she hopes October's balooning case count will convince Albertans to reconsider their lifestyles, but says formal restrictions are now necessary.
"Having formal restrictions, in itself is useful, because it actually says that we're taking this seriously."
Health authorities have said that Thanksgiving gatherings spurred much of the run of recent cases, and are now bracing for more as Halloween celebrations approach.