EDMONTON -- Alberta has 10 times the hospitalizations it did heading into its last relaunch, and seven times the number of active COVID-19 infections.

During her Wednesday pandemic update, the province's top doctor offered the comparison in response to those who feel the province's plan to begin reopening Feb. 8 is moving too fast or slow.

"When we started our first relaunch on May 14, there were 57 people in hospital, a tenth of the total we have today. Similarly, we now have 6,599 active cases – this is less than our peak of 21,231 active cases on Dec. 13 and all Albertans should be proud of that fact," Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.

"But once again, it is important to remember that when we relaunched in the spring, there were less than 1,000 active cases in the community, meaning there are almost seven times the active cases today that there were at that time."

She reported that afternoon 259 new cases out of some 6,800 tests the day before, and a positivity rate of 3.5 per cent.

According to the latest data, there were 539 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, 94 of whom were in ICUs.

Alberta's four-stage "path forward" ensures the province isn't doing "too much too fast," Hinshaw said.

Earlier that day, Premier Jason Kenney also defended the province's push forward, equating the process triggered by certain metrics to "baby steps."

But when asked, he would not promise Alberta wouldn't have to make more closures in the future if cases rose again.

"I know no one wants to be on the roller coaster, but we cannot guarantee people that there won't be a change in policy in the future. We don't want there to be, but what we've heard from these small business owners is that they would rather have an opportunity to operate for a period of time for now while our numbers are coming down and the pressure is being relieved from the hospitals, and if necessary in the future if we see exponential growth, we'll have to act accordingly," he told reporters.

"We need to recognize that we can't suspend businesses indefinitely because many of them simply won't survive that."

On Monday, personal trainers and restaurants are allowed to offer again one-on-one training sessions and limited dining in.

Hinshaw said steps backward should be prevented by the trigger system, which tracks key numbers like hospitalizations, positivity and growth rates, and active cases.

The province could move onto Step 2 as soon as three weeks after Feb. 8 if hospitalizations numbered below 450. Hinshaw said officials would be watching other metrics, but that the specific targets had not been finalized.

She reported 11 more deaths on Wednesday. Since March, 1,671 Albertans have died due to the disease.

Nearly 19,000 Albertans have been fully immunized with two doses of the vaccine, while more than 109,000 doses have been administered in total.

There were no new variant cases reported.