‘We are at a crucial point’: Hospitalizations, cases decline in Alberta as the focus turns to reopening

EDMONTON — Alberta’s top doctor says the province is at a “crucial point” in terms of its post-pandemic recovery as cases and hospitalizations decline.

Another 513 cases of COVID-19 were reported Thursday by Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health. She announced the numbers during a press conference with Premier Jason Kenney.

The province completed approximately 9,000 tests, resulting in a positivity rate of 6.1 per cent.

There are 538 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, including 150 in ICU.

One new death was reported Thursday of a woman in her 50s from the Calgary zone that included comorbidities.

The address comes the day after the province announced its latest phased reopening plan, tied largely to vaccinations in those over the age of 12 and to hospitalizations numbers.

Stage 1 is slated to begin June 1 and is based on 50 per cent of Albertans aged 12 and older receiving a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine as well as there being fewer than 800 coronavirus patients in hospital.

Stage 2 is set for mid-June and is based on 60 per cent of Albertans aged 12 and older receiving a first dose of vaccine as well as there being fewer than 500 COVID-19 patients in hospital.

Hospitalizations are also nearing the stage 2 threshold with 548 in hospital, including 157 in intensive care units. 

Wednesday saw another 390 COVID-19 cases added as active cases fell below 11,000 for the first time since early April.

Alberta has reported 225,424 cases and 2,198 deaths since March 2020.

WHAT WE DO NOW BRINGS US CLOSER TO RECOVERY: HINSHAW

Hinshaw thanked Albertans who had been following public health restrictions throughout the pandemic since their adherence has helped the province get to where it is now.

She invited those who have not adhered as closely to restrictions that it is never too late to start.

“We are at a crucial point in the pandemic,” Hinshaw said. “A point where each of our actions have the potential to bring us one step closer to a post-pandemic life.”

The premier said the province had cleared the peak of the third wave and that now the focus needs to be on getting vaccines into peoples’ arms.

Kenney said while the relaunch strategy relies on people getting vaccines, the province was not “coercing” Albertans into getting one.

“Getting the vaccine is a voluntary decision,” he said. “This is a free choice.”

He reinforced that at no point would Alberta make getting a vaccine mandatory and that the province had “no intention” of using vaccine passports.

READ MORE: Mandatory vaccinations in Alberta no more under new UCP proposed legislation

Nonetheless, the premier urged Albertans to get vaccinated as, according to him, the province cannot permanently rely on “damaging health restrictions.”

“Crash COVID with the vaccine,” Kenney said. “(Getting the vaccine) is the most powerful way that you can protect yourself, your family, friends, and neighbours.”

He said that over 2.5 million doses of vaccine have been administered throughout the province. Out of those, only 385 adverse reactions had been reported to Alberta Health Services (AHS), with one death linked to a vaccine.

PREMIER SAYS SECOND DOSE UPDATE TO COME NEXT WEEK

According to Kenney, there are 433,000 bookings for first dose appointments over the next two weeks – meaning the province could hit the 70 per cent threshold needed for relaunch.

“But those folks need to show up,” Kenney said.

“That also will allow us to being transitioning back more quickly to protective second doses.”

Kenney said that more information about a second dose strategy for Alberta would be presented “some time” next week.

While AHS says there are 100,000 open vaccine appointments, Hinshaw said the province wants to ensure there is a “full opportunity” for everyone to receive their first dose before opening up eligiblity for second doses.

HINSHAW AFFIRMS REOPENING PLAN

Hinshaw, who was not at the press conference releasing the relaunch plan on Wednesday, said she stands behind the plan.

“I support this plan,” she said. “I believe this plan will work for Alberta, but it will take all of us.”

“The plan that was approved and released yesterday was based solidly based on original draft we submitted for consideration with some adjustments that I had input into.”

She said the plan was drafted by a group of civil servants and medical experts based on experiences other countries who recently began to reopen like the United Kingdom, Israel, and Hungary, and other jurisdictions in the United States.

Hinshaw called the Alberta approach to reopening “more cautious” than British Columbia and Saskatchewan’s Stage 1 strategies as the plan included all Albertans aged 12 and over receiving first doses and not just adults.

For Hinshaw, the plan allows for enough Albertans to receive protection from COVID-19 through vaccines so that the health-care system will not be overwhelmed and that there will not be waves of transmission resulting in surges of severe outcomes.

“This maximizes the protection we that we will have before significant reopening takes place,” Hinshaw said.

When asked why the plan contained no mention of second doses, Hinshaw said first doses are the “most immediate target” for the province.

“But let me be clear: second doses are essential and are an integral part of the plan,” she said.

“For this plan to work, we need as many Albertans as possible to get a first dose and then get a second as soon as they are eligible to do so.” 

READ MORE: Why some docs think Alberta’s reopening should factor in second COVID-19 shots

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