Kenney appeals for patience, promises relaxed restrictions coming as COVID-19 vaccinations numbers grow
EDMONTON -- Alberta Premier Jason Kenney appealed for patience on Monday, saying relaxed COVID-19 health restrictions could be coming if vaccinations continue to trend up and hospitalizations level off.
Kenney said rules around self-isolation quarantine requirements for vaccinated could be relaxed "later this week" to reflect "the lower level of ... risk that they pose."
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The premier said he expects the province to surpass the 50 per cent mark of eligible Albertans over the age of 12 to have had at least one vaccine dose in the coming days.
"We should be, at some point in June, pushing 70 per cent of the eligible population vaccinated ... if so, that bodes very well for a broad reopening later this summer," he said.
"We have a ways to go yet."
Kenney said his government's reopening plan will be tied to the percentage of population to get vaccinated as well as hospitalizations.
"We need that ... vaccine-cautious share of the population to realize that their ticket to freedom and way back to normal lies in getting vaccinated," he said.
"Please do your part by following the public health measures for just a little while longer, and getting vaccinated as soon as you can."
HEALTH CARE CAPACITY CONCERNS
New COVID-19 data will be released later Monday afternoon, but as of the end of Saturday, there were 647 COVID-19 patients in hospital including a pandemic-high 186 in intensive care units.
That number doesn't include another 55 ICU patients receiving care for something other than COVID-19.
The 10 highest ICU patient counts have all been registered this month.
As a lagging indicator, hospitalizations are expected to continue to rise in the immediate future even as case counts begin to fall.
The premier has previously noted the effect of cancelled surgeries due to a need to preserve hospital capacity.
Kenney and Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw both addressed a number of what they termed "myths" around COVID-19.
They noted data showing that recent rural hospitalization rates were 26 per cent higher than in urban areas, and that rural areas made up 12 of the 15 highest active case rates on a per capita basis.
They also addressed perceived issues around testing, stating that the COVID-19 tests used by Alberta are considered the "gold standard" across Canada and around the world.
Dr. Hinshaw also addressed the misperception that COVID-19 only impacted the elderly, saying 40 per cent of those hospitalized since Feb. 1 were under the age of 50, including 12 per cent who were under the age of 30.
"Every life is important and valued. This is not up for debate."
Vaccine hesitancy could be an obstacle to achieving herd immunity, but there are signs that initial skepticism among many Albertans is fading.
According to updated polling from the Angus Reid Institute, 17 per cent of Albertans are either unsure or else do not intend to get their shot.
In January that number was at 45 per cent and led the country.
"At first there’s trepidation but once you have 50 per cent of the population vaccinated it’s no big deal cause everybody you know has had a shot," said Dr. Darren Markland.
Doctors believe it will take 85 per cent of Canadians to be vaccinated in order to effectively drive out COVID-19 in a similar way to measles.
"I think like everything it’s popularity and the ball is rolling more and more people are getting it as it becomes an acceptable thing," Dr. Markland said.
"As the majority does it, people follow along."