1st wave or 2nd wave? Where COVID-19 stands in Alberta

Case numbers have been consistently high in Alberta the last several weeks, and experts say the province appears to be in a transition period between waves of the novel coronavirus.

Read more: Canada ‘on the brink’ of coronavirus surge, second wave underway in some regions: Trudeau

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta, says the province had a clear first wave and there has been, overall, an increase in daily case numbers.

“I think it’s an uneasy time. It feels like it might be potentially the start of a second wave but I don’t think we are officially there yet,” she said.

Saxinger said it is fair to say that the province is in a transition period.

Read more: Alberta sees 143 new COVID-19 cases, 2 additional deaths connected to outbreaks

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“We don’t really know what will happen in the fall. There is definitely the possibility, in some cases in the world, of seeing a second wave which looks like it’s going to outstrip the first epidemic that they experienced.

“Other places, it might be more of a grumbling, up-and-down pattern, depending on how the population reacts and tries to control the infection,” she said.

Coronavirus: WHO explains the difference between a 2nd peak and a 2nd wave of COVID-19

Coronavirus: WHO explains the difference between a 2nd peak and a 2nd wave of COVID-19

Paul Veugelers, an epidemiology professor at the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health, points to indications of a second wave in Europe, such as Spain and the United Kingdom, and the United States.

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He said the province’s case numbers are on a higher plateau, which is worrisome.

Read more: Alberta COVID-19 cases rise to May levels; Hinshaw says ‘absolutely critical’ to stay home if sick

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“That’s what we don’t know at this point in time: are we on a trajectory of a full rebound or are we seeing a little elevation?” he said.

“I’m not overly worried for Alberta at this point in time. I believe Ontario and Quebec has more reason to be worried.

The numbers are rebounding more in those provinces than they are here.”

Health matters: Social distancing key to limiting 2nd COVID-19 wave

Health matters: Social distancing key to limiting 2nd COVID-19 wave

Saxinger said many of the new cases have been younger, healthier Albertans but if the trend continues, there could be unintended consequences.

“In other places, after some weeks of that pattern, occasionally we see stronger spillover into more vulnerable populations and in that case, we start to see the impact on our health-care system,” she said.

Read more: Canada sees 1,241 new coronavirus cases as worries of a second wave grow

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Dr. Stephanie Smith, the director of infection prevention and control at the University of Alberta Hospital, said a second wave will look quite different from the first.

“What we are seeing is a larger proportion of patients being identified in the community as positive, not necessarily needing hospitalization, but that could certainly change if we hit a critical level of community transmission because eventually it will trickle down to people that are at higher risk for more severe disease,” she said.

There are multiple outbreaks in acute care facilities in the province, including the QE2 Hospital in Grande Prairie, the Royal Alex in Edmonton and the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary.

Another patient linked to COVID-19 outbreak at Foothills hospital dies

Another patient linked to COVID-19 outbreak at Foothills hospital dies

“What’s stretching our hospitals right now is more around staffing and exposures and having all these staff people off work for such a long time,” said Smith.

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Read more: Coronavirus: What schools in Alberta have COVID-19 outbreaks

Several schools are on the province’s watch list with dozens others on the outbreak list. Hundreds of students across the province are in self-isolation after positive cases were identified in their classrooms.

While other provinces, such as Ontario, B.C. and Quebec, have re-introduced restrictions, no extra measures are expected in Alberta.

“To date, we have not seen one single pattern that would be amenable to additional restrictions,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw on Monday.

The province has stressed staying home when sick, wearing masks if you cannot distance and limiting social circles this fall. It has also emphasized that what happens next with the virus in the province is in the hands of Albertans.

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