Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Tuesday, Feb. 23

The latest:

  • Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, says the province will wait until after March 1 to make a decision on moving to Stage 2 of reopening because the R-value and positivity rate have increased while new cases have plateaued rather than continued a downward trend. 
  • Alberta’s R-value has increased to 1.03, meaning that more than one person on average contracts COVID-19 from each positive case. An R-value above 1.0 indicates exponential growth. Outside of Calgary and Edmonton, the R-value is much higher, at 1.13. 
  • The testing positivity rate is 4.5 per cent, up from 4.4. per cent the previous day. However some regions, like northern Alberta, are seeing testing positivity rates as high as 10 per cent.
  • Alberta reported 273 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, compared with 328 new cases reported on Saturday.
  • There were 4,675 active cases on Monday, down from 4,758 the previous day.
  • Sixteen more people have died, bringing the total number of deaths in the province to 1,843.
  • There were 324 people in hospital, including 53 in intensive care.
  • The province has confirmed a total of 289 cases of people infected with a coronavirus variant — 282 of the strain first identified in the U.K. and seven of the strain first identified in South Africa.
  • Roughly half of the cases that have been fully investigated have been found to be linked to travel. Hinshaw says that’s a concern because it means the other half are considered community acquired — and a third of them have an unknown source.
  • Hinshaw is scheduled to give her next update today at 3:30 p.m. CBC Edmonton and Calgary will carry it live on the website and Facebook.
  • Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Sue Henry announced Tuesday morning that the city’s state of local emergency has been extended for another 90 days. 
  • As of Monday, most international air passengers have to take a COVID-19 test after landing in Canada and spend up to three days of their 14-day quarantine period in a designated hotel to await their test results. All travellers flying into Canada from abroad land in one of four cities — Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto or Montreal — and are responsible for booking their own rooms there even if they plan on travelling on to other destinations. Those with negative results on their arrival tests will be able to take connecting flights to their final destinations. 
  • Migrant workers at the Olymel pork-processing plant in Red Deer have expressed dismay at rhetoric that seemed to frame the plant’s outbreak as a consequence of their actions while mitigating the realities of their work environment.
  • There were 455 cases linked to the Olymel outbreak, including one death, as of Monday.
  • An outbreak at the Cargill plant near High River has reached 22 cases, six of which are active. 
  • RCMP said in a news release that observations were made that the GraceLife Church in Parkland County west of Edmonton held service beyond the designated capacity on Sunday.
  • Pastor James Coates of the GraceLife Church was brought into custody last week after his arrest on two counts of contravening the Public Health Act and on one criminal charge for failing to comply with a condition of an undertaking.
  • Meanwhile in Calgary, Alberta Health Services confirmed that a public health inspector visited Fairview Baptist Church on Sunday for a conversation with church leadership about public health requirements. 
  • The Canadian military is defending its decision to send around 500 members to Fort Polk, La. — including members of the  Edmonton-based 1st Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (1CMBG) — this week to participate in a three-week long exercise with roughly 4,500 U.S. troops. One Edmonton soldier called it a “trivial exercise” that  needlessly puts troops at risk of COVID-19.  
  • Premier Jason Kenney announced on Friday all seniors aged 75 and older will be able to book appointments for COVID-19 vaccines beginning Wednesday.
  • Residents of lodges and other continuing care facilities have already begun getting the vaccine.
  • Kenney also said all residents in long-term care and designated supportive living have now received their second shot of the vaccine.
  • Alberta has administered 173,539 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, with 69,362 Albertans fully immunized, having received two doses.
  • A total of 235 schools, or around 10 per cent of all schools in the province, are experiencing outbreaks.

See the detailed regional breakdown:

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

  • Calgary zone: 1,665, down from 1,669 reported on Sunday (48,166 recovered).
  • Edmonton zone: 1,028, down from 1,115 (51,201 recovered).
  • North zone: 859, down from 865 (10,359 recovered).
  • South zone: 352, up from 335 (5,929 recovered). 
  • Central zone: 760, down from 766 (9,062 recovered).
  • Unknown: 11, up from 8 (101 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 hold off on making decision on Stage 2 reopening until March

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said as the R-value and the positivity rate have increased and new cases have plateaued — rather than continuing a downward trend, as hoped — the province will wait until after March 1 to make a decision on moving to Stage 2 of reopening. 

That’s so the province can take extra time to evaluate what those numbers mean, Hinshaw said, and whether the increases are significant. 

“In terms of what’s concerning or not concerning, we want to see our case counts either being stable or going down. Because when cases start to grow, if that’s sustained over time, then we can get into a situation like we were in in the fall,” she said during Monday’s update. 

“And that’s why we need to take the full three weeks, to be able to look very closely at where those numbers are coming from. Are there patterns? Are there things that we can do to be able to target particular locations? And give us that chance to fully evaluate whether this is a few-day fluctuation or whether this is a longer trend that is concerning.”

Alberta’s R-value has grown to 1.03, meaning that more than one person on average contracts COVID-19 from each positive case. Outside of Calgary and Edmonton, the R-value is much higher at 1.13. The testing positivity rate is 4.5 per cent, up from 4.4. per cent the previous day. However, some regions, like northern Alberta, are seeing testing positivity rates as high as 10 per cent.

Alberta reported 273 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, compared with 328 new cases reported on Saturday.


After criticism, Premier Jason Kenney condemns racist elements at Edmonton torch rally

After two days of silence and criticism from other political leaders, Premier Jason Kenney on Monday condemned the racist elements and symbolism of a weekend torch rally at the Alberta legislature.

The event was held to protest public health measures used to curb the spread of COVID-19. Some anti-lockdown protesters carried lit torches, a symbol of white supremacy used by the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, and more recently by white supremacists at the deadly 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

In a written statement sent at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Kenney acknowledged the source of the torch imagery used in posters promoting the event, and the affiliations of some people involved.

Anti-lockdown protesters surrounded police during scuffles at a rally on the legislature grounds on Saturday. (Scott Neufeld/CBC News )

“I understand that publicity for this event incorporated an image apparently taken from the notorious 2017 Charlottesville torch rally, which was an explicitly white supremacist event,” Kenney said in a statement issued through his press secretary.

“Prominent racists promoted Saturday’s protest at the legislature, and individuals attended the event from known hate groups like the ‘Soldiers of Odin’ and ‘Urban Infidels.’ I condemn these voices of bigotry in the strongest possible terms.”

For more, see: After criticism, Premier Jason Kenney condemns racist elements at Edmonton torch rally

Edmonton and Calgary churches defy public health orders

An Edmonton-area church that has repeatedly flouted public health orders since December once again held a service this Sunday.

RCMP said in a news release that observations were made that the GraceLife Church in Parkland County west of Edmonton held service beyond the designated capacity. Restrictions call for attendance to be capped at 15 per cent of capacity and congregants to practise physical distancing and wear masks.

“The investigation continues into this situation with the intention of determining, through consultation with AHS, the next course of action for the RCMP,” the Sunday release said.

RCMP said in a news release that observations were made that the GraceLife Church in Parkland County west of Edmonton held service beyond the designated capacity.  (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Pastor James Coates was brought into custody last week after his arrest on two counts of contravening the Public Health Act and on one criminal charge for failing to comply with a condition of an undertaking.

This weekend, protestors gathered outside the Edmonton Remand Centre to call for the pastor’s release.

A judge’s order was issued compelling Coates to attend court on Feb. 24.

And in Calgary, Alberta Health Services confirmed that a public health inspector visited Fairview Baptist Church on Sunday for a conversation with church leadership about public health requirements. 

In January, Pastor Tim Stephens was fined $1,200 by Calgary bylaw officers for violating public health orders. But the church has continued to encourage congregants to break rules by holding gatherings larger than allowed capacity and not enforcing the wearing of masks.


Most air passengers entering Canada now under new travel rules

Beginning Monday, most air passengers entering Canada must comply with new travel measures, including a pricey hotel quarantine.

Most air passengers will now have to take a COVID-19 test after landing in Canada and spend up to three days of their 14-day quarantine period in a designated hotel to await their test results.

Passengers must pre-book their hotel stay before arriving in Canada.

On Friday, the federal government posted online a list of approved quarantine hotels. Eighteen are currently listed.

There is no option to book online, so travellers must call a dedicated phone line to reserve a room.

Once they get through on the phone line, passengers must reserve a room for three nights — even though they only have to stay for as long as it takes to get their test results.

Travellers who test negative can leave immediately and finish the rest of their 14-day quarantine at home. Those who need to take a connecting domestic flight can book it at this point and fly home.


Migrant workers at Red Deer slaughterhouse say they’ve been unfairly blamed

When the Olymel slaughterhouse in Red Deer, Alta., closed temporarily last week amid a growing outbreak of COVID-19 cases, many workers expressed relief.

But as news articles about the shutdown were posted online — some of which highlighted the facility’s migrant worker base — workers noticed a hurtful trend.

“There are some comments I read in the articles or the news, saying that they have to send back the foreigners to their own land,” said one worker, who CBC News agreed to keep anonymous. “It’s too painful on our part.”

A vehicle pulls out of the parking lot at the Olymel pork plant in Red Deer, Alta. The plant has temporarily shut down due to a growing COVID-19 outbreak that has surpassed 400 cases. (CBC)

There were 455 cases linked to the plant outbreak as of Monday. One worker has died.

Last week, Olymel said it would temporarily shut down the plant due to the rapidly growing COVID-19 outbreak at the facility.

Prior to the shutdown, workers said they were afraid to go back to work, fearing for their health and the health of their families, several of whom described negative effects on their mental wellbeing.

Since the shutdown, workers have expressed dismay at rhetoric that seemed to frame the outbreak as a consequence of their actions while mitigating the realities of their work environment.


Military to send troops to U.S. in its largest international exercise of pandemic

The Canadian military is defending its decision to send hundreds of troops to the U.S. for training, even as one Edmonton soldier called it a “trivial exercise” that needlessly puts troops at risk of COVID-19. 

Around 500 members of the Canadian military will travel to Fort Polk, Louisiana, this week to participate in a three-week long exercise with roughly 4,500 U.S. troops.

It’s the largest international training exercise the Canadian Army has taken part in since the beginning of the pandemic, a military spokesperson confirmed.

A new study led by the Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ont. will examine how Canada’s veterans have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The commander of Edmonton-based 1st Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (1CMBG) called the exercise a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity and a necessary step to ready the group for its next assignment. 

“There are certainly risks to doing anything in a COVID environment but in our mind the risk of not being trained if Canadians give us the call is worse,” said Col. Wade Rutland, commander of 1CMBG.

“We have plenty of force protection measures that are proven and are in place now that we’ll use to make sure that these soldiers, our allies and their families are protected.”


Cancer institute excluded from first phase

Documents obtained by CBC News show frustration at an Edmonton cancer centre due to its exclusion from Alberta’s first phase of vaccinations.

The memos detail the unsuccessful efforts from leadership at the Cross Cancer Institute to have Alberta Health Services make its health-care workers eligible for immunization during Phase 1.

AHS has decided not to include workers at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton during the first phase of vaccinations. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Dr. Charles Butts, the facility’s medical director, called an early February ruling by AHS against eligibility a “bad decision” in an internal email last week.

“I am sure that many of you will be as frustrated as I am with this decision,” he said in the email.

“It is taken from the perspective of acute care hospitals and ignores the critical nature of the CCI in delivery of cancer care for the northern half of the province.”


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