Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Thursday, Feb. 18

The latest:

  • Alberta reported 277 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, compared with 263 new cases reported Tuesday.
  • There were 4,857 active cases on Wednesday, down from 4,993 the previous day.
  • The testing positivity rate is 3.9 per cent, down from 5 per cent the previous day.
  • Seven more people have died, bringing the total number of deaths in the province to 1,798.
  • There are 370 people in hospital as of Wednesday, including 60 in intensive care.
  • The provincewide R-value, which refers to the average number of people infected by each person with the virus, was 0.85, which did not change from the previous day. 
  • Alberta Health data shows that new daily cases peaked in the province on Dec. 4 with 1,874. By Feb. 17, the latest update available, new daily cases had dropped to 277. The last time that number was so small was on Oct. 17.
  • As of Wednesday, the province has confirmed a total of 225 cases of people infected with the coronavirus variants — 218 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. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, 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 will deliver her next update on Thursday at 3:30 p.m.
  • Alberta Health told CBC News that nine schools have had a case of someone with the variant attending while infectious and three schools have had in-school transmission. 
  • As of Tuesday, 152,056 doses of the vaccine had been administered. There are now approximately 56,594 Albertans who are fully immunized after receiving both doses.
  • Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is defending his government’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the face of criticism that virtually no details have been shared regarding its distribution plan. He said Wednesday the province will lay out its priority lists for the next phases of the vaccine distribution program “pretty soon” after studying what other provinces are doing. “The problem now is supply. We effectively ran out of supply, for all intents and purposes, in mid-January. So, that is our primary focus. I will say, when it comes to the subsequent phases, a lot of this is quite fluid,” he said. 
  • Hinshaw said on Wednesday there has been an increase in Albertans who aren’t participating in the contact tracing process. So far for February, 1.3 per cent of confirmed cases did not answer or return calls.
  • Hinshaw said Tuesday she has been hearing a lot of questions around capacity limits at restaurants. She explained that, unlike other public settings, such as retail stores, Alberta has not implemented specific capacity limits on restaurants, bars and lounges.
  • Instead, the province has put in place physical-distancing rules that require a minimum of two-metres between tables. “In addition, we have limited the number of people in a dining party who can be seated at the same table to a maximum of six. And these must be members of the same household or an individual living alone with their two contacts.” 
  • The closure of the Olymel pork-processing plant due to an outbreak of COVID-19 has left hog farmers scrambling to find somewhere to take their animals. According to Alberta Pork, 40,000 to 50,000 pigs go through the Red Deer facility each week. Executive director Darcy Fitzgerald says even a two-week closure will create a significant backlog. “If we look at coming back by at least March 1st, we’ll probably be about 130,000 pigs backlogged,” he said.
  • As of Monday, 326 employees at the plant had tested positive for COVID-19, nearly double the count of 168 on Feb. 6. Of those, 192 remain active. 
  • The Alberta government is making an additional $10,000 available to small- and medium-sized businesses that have seen severe revenue drops because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Premier Jason Kenney and Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer made an announcement Wednesday that $120 million is being set aside to supplement existing supports for enterprises. 
  • The pastor of an Edmonton-area church remains in police custody one day 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. On Sunday, members of the RCMP and Alberta Health Services went to the GraceLife Church in Parkland County west of Edmonton to assess compliance in relation to conditions issued to Pastor James Coates earlier in the week, police said in a news release Wednesday.
  • Calgary police say a video showing an officer shaking the hand of an unmasked, anti-mask protester on Saturday captured the end of a peaceful negotiation — with no day-of enforcement despite a number of people breaking Public Health Act rules.
  • The incident happened as dozens of unmasked protesters walked through Chinook Centre to protest public health restrictions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 
  • Some experts fear a continued lack of consequences for some protesting essential measures could cripple the province’s pandemic response. “That sends a message to the community that these rules aren’t important, that perhaps we are safe without following these rules and we’re not,” said Dr. Tehseen Ladha, an assistant professor in pediatrics at the University of Alberta.
  • WestJet says it’s temporarily cutting service to some communities in four provinces as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hammer the airline. The Calgary-based airline says it will stop the following flights until June 24:

    • Calgary to Medicine Hat, starting on March 21.
    • Calgary to Lloydminster, starting on March 19.
    • London, Ont., to Toronto, starting on March 22.
    • St. John’s to Halifax, starting on March 21.
  • The University of Lethbridge says it’s anticipating “positive shifts” related to COVID-19 health measures in coming months, and is in the planning stages for a significant return of students to the campus for the fall 2021 semester. 

(Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

See the detailed regional breakdown:

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

  • Calgary zone: 1,823, down from 1,887 reported on Wednesday (47,410 recovered).
  • Edmonton zone: 1,270, down from 1,333 (50,647 recovered).
  • North zone: 719, down from 737 (10,126 recovered).
  • South zone: 338, down from 344 (5,830 recovered). 
  • Central zone: 697, up from 679 (8,844 recovered).
  • Unknown: 10, down from 13 (103 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:


Jason Kenney defends vaccine rollout plan as critics call for more details

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is defending his government’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the face of criticism that virtually no details have been shared regarding its distribution plan.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi weighed in on Tuesday, saying he believes — despite all of the province’s talk about supply issues and Ottawa’s failure to solve them — that the bigger problem is going to be distribution.

“In other words, before we know it we’re going to have more supply than we have ability to put in peoples’ arms. So our goal needs to be to solve that problem now before it happens and make sure we are ready to do massive vaccinations as soon as supply is available,” he said.

Premier Jason Kenney explains that the next phases of vaccine rollout can’t happen until the province has enough vaccine and the efficacy of yet-to-be approved vaccines may change the province’s approach. 1:44

Kenney said Wednesday that he doesn’t see the need for a big rush. He said the province will lay out its priority lists for the next phases of the vaccine distribution program “pretty soon” after studying what other provinces are doing. 

“The problem now is supply, we effectively ran out of supply for all intents and purposes in mid January. So, that is our primary focus. I will say, when it comes to the subsequent phases, a lot of this is quite fluid,” he said. 

For more, see: Jason Kenney defends vaccine rollout plan as critics call for more details


Closure of Olymel plant due to outbreak means backlog for Alberta pork producers

The closure of the Olymel pork processing plant due to an outbreak of COVID-19 has left hog farmers scrambling to find somewhere to take their animals. 

“I am very concerned. We are lucky we have a few weeks, but I know farmers, they have to ship next week,” said Arnold van Ginkel, a pork producer who ships about 140 pigs from his farm in Leslieville to the Olymel plant every week. 

That’s just a fraction of the plant’s capacity. 

Quebec is dealing with a growing number of COVID-19 outbreaks in dozens of workplaces like the production line at this Quebec-based meat processing facility. (Radio-Canada)

According to Alberta Pork, 40,000 to 50,000 pigs go through the Red Deer facility each week.

Executive Director Darcy Fitzgerald says even a two week closure will create a significant backlog. “If we look at coming back by at least March 1st we’ll probably be about 130,000 pigs backlogged,” he said.

Farmers will be looking at options that include finding spare room and feed or shipping the animals to Manitoba or to the U.S. in order to avoid euthanizing them. 

Fitzgerald says that adds costs to an already struggling industry, with most producers not turning a profit since 2015. 

As of Tuesday, an outbreak at the Olymel Red Deer Food Processing Plant was linked to 343 cases, 200 of which were active. 

For more, see: Closure of Olymel plant due to outbreak means backlog for Alberta pork producers


Increase in Albertans not participating in contact tracing process

Since last fall, Alberta Health Services has increased its capacity to do contact tracing, Hinshaw said.

Until December, less than one per cent of confirmed cases didn’t answer the phone or return calls from contact tracers.

But since then, the province has seen a “concerning” rise in such incidents, Hinshaw said, and in January tracers had problems contacting people in about two per cent of positive cases. So far in February, tracers have encountered that problem in about 1.3 per cent of cases.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, says she is concerned by a small uptick in confirmed COVID-19 cases who didn’t answer the phone or return calls from contact tracers. 3:22

“Contact tracing remains essential to our ability to keep Albertans healthy and to keep driving our cases downward,” she said. “To be successful in containing COVID spread, contact tracing relies on a partnership with Albertans who test positive or who have been exposed to COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, recently, we have seen a small but significant increase in the number of people who aren’t participating with the contact tracing process. It may be tempting to think that not providing information will make COVID go away. Unfortunately, the opposite is true.”

 For more, see: Alberta reports 277 new COVID-19 cases, seven more deaths from illness


Alberta adds $120 million in pandemic supports for struggling businesses

The Alberta government is making an additional $10,000 available to small- and medium-sized businesses that have seen severe revenue drops because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Premier Jason Kenney and Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer announced Wednesday afternoon that $120 million is being set aside to supplement existing supports for enterprises.

Businesses that show a 60 per cent reduction in revenue will be eligible to be granted 15 per cent of their typical monthly income, up to a maximum of $10,000. Applications for a piece of that funding will open in April. 

The support is available to companies with fewer than 500 employees and does not need to be repaid. The province says the money can be used for things like covering the cost of personal protective equipment, paying rent or staff salaries.

“We know that many Alberta small businesses and job creators will still need help for the foreseeable future,” Kenney said on Wednesday. 

 For more, see: Alberta adds $120 million in pandemic supports for struggling businesses


Alberta’s increase in COVID-19 variants points to need for asymptomatic testing, Calgary doctor says

The number of coronavirus variant cases confirmed in Alberta has reached 221, and roughly half of the cases that have been fully investigated have been found to be linked to travel.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said at a press conference on Tuesday that she’s particularly concerned about the growing number of cases that are not linked to travel.

She says those cases are considered community acquired and that a third of them have an unknown source.

Dr. Vanessa Meier-Stephenson, an infectious disease physician with the University of Calgary, says she fully expects there are cases of the variant they’re not detecting.

“When we start seeing some of the transmission in the community and when we’re seeing transmission that we can’t link back to a specific source, it does raise increasing concerns around how this is spreading in the community,” she said.

Meier-Stephenson says there are still many questions about the variants including how long people are infectious.

“Our government and our public health officials are doing what they can to kind of develop plans around this. But sometimes with a lot of these unknowns entering into the equation, it does make it more challenging for them to make informed decisions, such as opening up various facilities and steps,” she said.

This is why Meier-Stephenson says she would like to see a return to more widespread asymptomatic testing — something the province cancelled in the fall.

For more, see: Alberta’s increase in COVID-19 variants points to need for asymptomatic testing, Calgary doctor says 


Calgary police say officer shook anti-masker’s hand for agreeing to peacefully end protest

Calgary police say a video showing an officer shaking the hand of an unmasked, anti-mask protester captured the end of a peaceful negotiation — with no day-of enforcement despite a number of people breaking Public Health Act rules. 

On Saturday, dozens of unmasked protesters walked through Chinook Centre to protest public health restrictions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Videos of the event posted to social media show police officers escorting the protesters, and one officer shaking an unmasked protester’s hand and leaning in close, with an arm around the man’s shoulder, as the two converse. 

Police said in a release on Monday evening that members from its public safety unit, beat teams and diversity resources team were in attendance, and that the diversity resources team negotiated with the protesters to ensure they left the mall peacefully.

Calgary police said a video showing an officer shaking the hand of an anti-mask protester captured the end of a peaceful negotiation. They are committed to investigating the full scope of the protest, although no tickets were issued on the day. 3:12

“At the end of this negotiation, a handshake was offered and accepted. Another protester was nearby speaking into a bullhorn so the officer leaned in closer to hear what is being said,” police said.

Shortly after, the protesters left the mall, police said. 

“Our role at demonstrations such as these is to ensure public and officer safety, and for this reason, it is sometimes better to follow through with enforcement action post event. We commit to investigating the full scope of events in the coming days to determine what enforcement action may be taken.”

For more, see: Calgary police say officer shook anti-masker’s hand for agreeing to peacefully end protest


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