Premier Jason Kenney announced that junior and senior high school students in COVID-19 “hot spots” will be heading back to at-home learning starting Monday.
He also said the government will implement a curfew where case rates are significantly high, specifically case rates above 1,000 per 100,000, and if a municipality or region requests it.
Starting Friday, Alberta will also close indoor fitness and indoor sports in the hot spot regions.
“These targeted restrictions will remain in place for at least two weeks for any community or area that reaches this trigger,” the government said in a news release. “After 14 days, the enhanced measures will be lifted once the municipality falls back below the threshold.”
Those regions are areas that have a COVID-19 case rate of at least 350 per 100,000 population and 250 currently active cases. They are:
Kenney called this a “hard but necessary step.”
“I know we’re all tired of this pandemic.”
He said the targeted COVID-19 restrictions will be implemented to drive down case numbers and protect the health care system.
Currently, Alberta has more than 21,000 active cases — the most the province has ever had during the pandemic.
Of all active cases, 63 per cent involve variants of concern.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday Alberta confirmed 2,048 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours out of 20,500 tests, putting the provincial positivity rate at 10.1 per cent.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said more than 1,300 cases involving variants were identified.
He said hospitalizations have been “rising sharply.” There are 632 Albertans in hospital and 151 in ICU.
“That too is a record for Alberta during the pandemic,” Kenney said.
AHS has already been forced to start postponing surgeries in some zones.
Kenney said that will enable hospitals to expand in-patient beds, where necessary, and create more capacity for COVID-19 patients.
“We know that hospitalizations will continue to go up and this is a problem,” the premier said. “It impacts everyone who needs care for any reason,” he added, referencing car accidents, cancer diagnosis and other health needs.
He had hoped the move back to Step 1 announced about three weeks ago would have had more impact, Kenney said. But as case rates continue to rise, along with hospitalizations — and with the vaccines not arriving quickly enough — Alberta must act, he said.
“Based on supply, we still have many weeks to go until we reach broader community protection.”
As of Wednesday, 1,528,569 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered and 292,765 Albertans were fully immunized.
Kenney said the province is also working with the restaurant industry to ensure people who are dining on patios are only doing so with their household.
Curfew and fine enforcement
He also said the province is considering implementing a curfew “where needed” where case rates are significantly high — 1,000 or more cases per 100,000 population or where the municipal government requests it.
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which would qualify given its case rate, has not requested a curfew at this time.
“We are in the process of reviewing the newly announced restrictions, evaluating options, and awaiting further details from the government,” a RMWB spokesperson told Global News.
“I’m going to say something I’ve never said before,” the premier said. “I encourage people, if they can possible do so, to stay home… to stay in their community.”
Kenney said the province would be adding “additional backstops” with stronger fine collection at registry services. He said that would mean someone who’s been fined for breaking a public health order and not paid the fine might be restricted from renewing their driver’s licence, for instance.
“This is for the people who aren’t taking the pandemic seriously by putting others at risk by following the public health measures in place.”
Three additional deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours. All three included comorbidities.
A woman in her 50s in the South zone died from COVID-19, along with two men in the Calgary zone: one in his 70s and one in his 80s.
Adding more ICU beds in Edmonton
Alberta Health Services said Monday it had added 19 ICU beds in the Edmonton zone. On Thursday, AHS said 11 more ICU beds were added, putting Edmonton zone’s ICU bed total at 102.
COVID-19 testing delays in Calgary
Alberta Health Services said a significant portion of the appointments for COVID-19 tests in the Calgary zone are turning out to be no shows.
“For the third day in a row, over 1,000 people who booked a COVID-19 test appointment in the Calgary zone did not show up for their test. That amounts to nearly 20 per cent of bookings,” an AHS spokesperson said Thursday.
There’s been high demand for test appointments in that zone, AHS added, and it can still take up to three to five days to get a COVID-19 test. AHS has expanded capacity and added a new temporary COVID-19 assessment and testing site in northeast Calgary.
AHS is urging anyone who no longer needs their booked COVID-19 test to cancel it.
Earlier on Thursday, Alberta announced the rest of those who qualify under Phase 2C and 2D can start booking COVID-19 vaccines on Friday.
Those phases include designated support people for seniors in care, anyone 50 or older and any First Nations Albertan 35 or older.
Phase 2C was also expanded to include firefighters.
Eligibility also expanded for people in targeted regions of the province, including the Cargill meat plant, Fort McMurray and Banff.
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