Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Friday, Feb. 12

The latest:

  • Air travellers landing in Canada will have to quarantine in a hotel, at their own expense, starting Feb. 22 for up to 72 hours, according to government sources who spoke with CBC News, with an announcement expected later Friday. Last month, the federal government announced air travellers returning from non-essential trips abroad will have to isolate in a federally mandated facility for up to three days  while they await the results of a polymerase chain reaction test, commonly known as a PCR test, at an estimated cost of up to $2,000.
  • The hotel stay would be part of the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for returning non-essential travellers. 
  • The tighter federal restrictions and the growing spread of more highly contagious variant strains of coronavirus in other parts of the world, prompted the Alberta government to say Thursday that it would suspend the border testing pilot at the Calgary airport when the new requirements come into effect.
  • Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, commended front-line workers from Alberta Health Services, the Calgary International Airport, the airlines and the University of Calgary for helping make the border testing pilot project a success. She said that since November, more than 49,000 returning travellers had been tested as soon as they arrived and she credited the pilot project with playing an important role in preventing the spread of the coronavirus and the variants in the province.
  • Starting Monday, all travellers arriving at land border crossings will be required to show proof of a negative PCR test completed in the United States within the previous 72 hours, Hinshaw said Thursday — in line with new federal rules.
  • Border officers can’t legally deny entry to Canadians, but those who show up without proof of a test could face fines of up to $3,000.
  • About 380,000 public- and private-sector workers — such as health-care and social-services workers and education support workers — will receive one-time payments of $1,200 for putting themselves at risk on the job during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alberta government announced on Wednesday.
  • However, the new program is leaving some employees and unions frustrated as they puzzle over who is eligible for the cash.
  • Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday that Alberta would pursue additional domestic production of vaccines after Manitoba made a deal to buy two million doses of a Calgary-made COVID-19 vaccine.
  • A Calgary lab has partnered with Sandstone Pharmacies, a Calgary-based pharmacy chain that has a strong presence in rural southern Alberta, to offer fee-based asymptomatic COVID-19 tests.
  • Alberta reported 351 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, compared with 339 new cases reported Wednesday.
  • There were 5,501 active cases, down from 5,706 the previous day, the lowest case numbers seen in months after it surged to a peak of more than 21,000 on Dec. 13 — around the time that tighter public health restrictions were imposed by the United Conservative Party government. 
  • The testing positivity rate is 3.52 per cent, up from 3.17 per cent the previous day.
  • Another 16 people have died, bringing the total number of deaths in the province to 1,744.
  • The provincewide R-value, which refers to the average number of people infected by each person with the virus, was 0.87, an increase from 0.83 the previous week. 
  • The province has now confirmed 156 cases of people infected with the coronavirus variants of concern — 149 of the strain first identified in the U.K. and seven of the strain first identified in South Africa.
  • There were 397 people in hospital as of Thursday, including 71 in intensive care.
  • Hinshaw is not expected to provide a live update on Friday, but the province will release new COVID-19 numbers later in the day.
  • The City of Calgary said Thursday that 182 violation tickets have been issued since August for failure to wear a face covering where required. The total number of tickets issued under the Public Health Act in Calgary is now 192.
  • Calgary is also reopening bookings at some municipal arenas and pools that can be booked for one-on-one training or for lessons or practices for minor teams (up to 10 people), but not for games or group exercise, the city said. 
  • The first round of eased COVID-19 restrictions in the past week includes limited school and minor sports training, allowing restaurants, cafés and pubs to reopen for dine-in services, and permitting fitness training, but only for one-on-one workouts — individual workouts without a trainer are not permitted. 
  • The province has said further easings of restrictions wouldn’t begin until hospitalizations dropped below 450 and not for at least three weeks after the first stage of reopening. A decision on Step 2 is expected to be made on Feb. 28.
  • Close to a third of Alberta’s active COVID-19 cases have no identified source, sparking concerns that important data could be missing as the province eases restrictions and at the same time tracks a growing number of variant cases.
  • As of Thursday, more than 135,000 doses of the vaccine had been administered. There are now approximately 42,000 Albertans who are now fully immunized after receiving both doses.

(Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

See the detailed regional breakdown:

Here is the detailed regional breakdown of active cases as of Thursday.

  • Calgary zone: 2,202, down from 2,269 reported on Wednesday (46,437 recovered).
  • Edmonton zone: 1,616, down from 1,705 (49,954 recovered).
  • North zone: 703, down from 722 (9,855 recovered).
  • South zone: 292, down from 326 (5,724 recovered). 
  • Central zone: 679, up from 674 (8,601 recovered).
  • Unknown: 9, down from 10 (105 recovered).

Find out which neighbourhoods or communities have the most cases, how hard people of different ages have been hit, the ages of people in hospital, how Alberta compares to other provinces and more in: Here are the latest COVID-19 statistics for Alberta — and what they mean

Here are the latest Alberta COVID-19 stories:


Alberta to end border testing program at Calgary airport

Alberta will end its border pilot program at the Calgary airport when new federal restrictions come into place, the province’s chief medical officer of health announced Thursday.

“Thanks to the testing processes already in place because of our border pilot, Alberta’s labs are well positioned to support this new federal requirement,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.

Passengers wear masks at the Calgary Airport in Calgary on Oct. 30 amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Alberta will end its border testing pilot at the airport when new federal restrictions come into place. (The Canadian Press)

The border pilot at the Coutts border entry, meanwhile, will continue until a decision is made by the federal government on whether additional restrictions are needed at land border crossings, Hinshaw said.

Starting Monday, Alberta will require all travellers arriving at land border crossings to show proof of a negative PCR test completed in the United States within the previous 72 hours.

For more, see: Alberta changing rules to require negative COVID-19 tests at international border crossings


Close to a third of Alberta’s active COVID-19 cases have no identified source

Close to a third of Alberta’s active COVID-19 cases have no identified source, sparking concerns that important data could be missing as the province eases restrictions and at the same time tracks a growing number of variant cases.

The percentage of active cases with no known source peaked at about 85 per cent in late November when Alberta’s contact tracing system broke down.

While it has improved dramatically since Alberta Health Services beefed up its contact tracing teams and caught up with the backlog, it currently sits at nearly 33 per cent — representing 1,856 of 5,706 active cases.

The province moved into Stage 1 of its phased reopening on Monday, allowing for some indoor dining at restaurants, one-on-one training in gyms and limited school and minor sports.

Craig Jenne, an associate professor at the University of Calgary in the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases, said easing restrictions will lead to more interactions in the community, providing even more opportunities for the virus to spread between people who don’t know each other.

“If we’re at a third already, as we increase our activity in the community one would only expect those anonymous or untraceable contacts to go up,” he said.

For more, see: Close to a third of Alberta’s active COVID-19 cases have no identified source


Asymptomatic COVID testing coming to pharmacy chain with locations in rural southern Alberta

A Calgary lab has partnered with a locally based pharmacy chain that has a strong presence in rural southern Alberta to offer fee-based asymptomatic COVID-19 tests.

The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests will soon be available to people without COVID symptoms at Sandstone Pharmacies across the province.

The tests use saliva samples rather than nose or throat swabs, and results can be available within hours, but for a fee. It will be $149 plus GST for a standard, 24-hour wait, and up to $199 plus GST for a four-hour wait.

The developers hope that faster turnaround times will allow the province to stay on top of testing.

A Sandstone Pharmacy in Innisfail, Alta. (Google Maps)

“The biggest problem the PCR testing has is that it takes a long time to process the results, and that delays notification to patients, to the health-care teams and contact tracing,” said Dr. Anmol Kapoor, a Calgary cardiologist and the CEO of CardiAI labs, which will process the results.

Sandstone locations in Alberta include Airdrie, Nanton, Blackfalds, Bragg Creek, Black Diamond, Hythe and Langdon. There are also locations in Calgary and Medicine Hat. 

The testing kits should be available in Sandstone Pharmacies early next week.

For more, see: Asymptomatic COVID testing coming to pharmacy chain with locations in rural southern Alberta


Alberta will pursue further domestic vaccine production, Kenney says

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday the province would pursue additional domestic production of vaccines after Manitoba made a deal to buy two million doses of a Calgary-made COVID-19 vaccine.

Earlier Thursday, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced the province had made a deal to buy the doses from the Calgary-based biotechnology company Providence Therapeutics, which has just started human clinical trials.

“It would be so important for us to have a domestic pharmaceutical industry here, and we are very keen on doing whatever we can to make that happen,” Kenney said during a news conference.

“It’s obvious that we can’t count on international vaccine supply during COVID-19 given the vaccine nationalism and the failure of the federal government to get strong enough contracts to access supply.”

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Thursday the province has struck a deal to buy two million doses of a Canadian-made COVID-19 vaccine, on the condition it gets approved for use in Canada and is delivered by the end of the year. 1:02

Providence’s product is an mRNA vaccine similar to Moderna shots, requiring two doses. The company purchased a 20,000-square-foot facility in Calgary with 12,000 square feet of lab space in order to mass produce the product.

Brad Sorenson, CEO of Providence, said the company is about halfway through its Phase 1 trial and expects to roll into Phase 2 and Phase 3 clinical trials beginning in May.

For more, see: Alberta will pursue further domestic vaccine production, Kenney says


Alberta, federal governments giving $1,200 pandemic danger pay to front-line workers

About 380,000 public and private-sector workers will receive one-time payments of $1,200 for putting themselves at risk on the job during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health-care and social-services workers and education support workers are among the public-sector employees who will receive the critical worker benefit, Premier Jason Kenney and Labour and Immigration Minister Jason Copping announced Wednesday afternoon.

Employees of grocery stores, warehouses, food production, truck drivers and other private-sector workers who earn less than $25 an hour will also be eligible for the bonus pay. Their employers must apply to the government for them to receive the payments.

The province has agreed to commit $118 million to the program, matching $346 million committed by the federal government last year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last May that the provinces had agreed to collectively pitch in $1 billion to bolster $3 billion in federal funds that would boost the pay of essential workers.

While other provinces accessed all or half of the matching federal funds by September, Alberta was the sole exception, having accessed just $47 million of its $347-million allocation.

For more, see: Alberta, federal governments giving $1,200 pandemic danger pay to front-line workers


Alberta pandemic danger pay program causes confusion among workers, unions

A new program that will pay some front-line workers $1,200 for risking their health during the COVID-19 pandemic is leaving some employees and unions frustrated as they puzzle over who is eligible for the cash.

The $465-million critical workers benefit, announced Wednesday, is a federal-provincial effort aimed at recognizing the occupational risks assumed by 380,000 workers in health care, social services and education as COVID-19 surged through a second wave in Alberta.

Private-sector workers who kept food supplies moving, warehouses stocked and gasoline flowing will also qualify, if they earn less than $25 an hour and their employer applies for the funding.

However, there was confusion among some workers as they tried to understand if they were eligible.

Close to a third of Alberta’s active COVID-19 cases have no identified source, sparking concerns that important data could be missing as the province eases restrictions. In this photo, Premier Jason Kenney updates the media in March 2020. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

“Nothing like driving a wedge into the working-class folks that are out there trying to save lives every day,” said a frustrated Mike Parker on Thursday. The president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) says the union was inundated with phone calls and emails from confused members.

The Alberta government gave some examples of health-care professionals who would qualify for the benefit, including nurses, respiratory therapists and health facility cleaning and food services staff.

However, the HSAA represents workers in 240 professions, Parker said. He has no idea which ones will be eligible. 

Parker said he is upset the provincial government didn’t consult with labour groups before deciding which  professions should qualify.

For more, see: Alberta pandemic danger pay program causes confusion among workers, unions


Grade 11 girls report highest levels of anxiety and depression in CBE student survey

The Calgary Board of Education says new survey results show high school students are reporting that while they feel they have positive relationships in their lives, they’re also experience feelings of depression and anxiety — with significantly more female students reporting these feelings than their male counterparts. 

This data was gathered for Grades 4 through 12 by the school board through its Our School survey last fall, with the goal of getting an in-the-moment snapshot of what students are feeling. 

The CBE says it has not compiled data from all schools yet into one report, but results from the survey at Dr. E.P. Scarlett High School are a pretty good indication of what high school students reported at CBE schools across the city. 

“And when you look at the the national norms, the patterns are the same,” said superintendent of school improvement, Joanne Pitman.

For more, see: Grade 11 girls report highest levels of anxiety and depression in CBE student survey


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