Alberta physicians continue to warn against further reopening as active COVID-19 cases rise Sunday

As Alberta added 301 new cases of COVID-19 and three deaths Sunday, some physicians in the province say they remain concerned about a potentially premature approval of the Stage 2 reopening plan.

“What we’ve seen happen with cases right now is that they’ve stopped decreasing and they’ve actually started to increase again, including variant cases,” said Dr. Tehseen Ladha, a University of Alberta professor and pediatrician, “which is really quite scary, knowing that the variant is so much more infectious than the regular COVID strain that we’ve been dealing with for the past year.”

The number of variant cases in the province has been on the rise. On Feb. 1, there were 51 total cases; the latest data from the province from Feb. 27 shows 430 total variant cases.

Active COVID-19 cases also rose slightly in Alberta Sunday. There are now 4,584 active cases — up by a net of 38. That means that new cases outweighed the 260 new recoveries and three deaths.

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The three deaths announced Sunday were all seniors: an Edmonton zone woman in her 90s connected to the outbreak at Youville Home, a woman in the Edmonton zone in her 70s, and a man in the Calgary zone in his 70s. All three were believed to have comorbidities, according to Alberta Health. A total of 1,886 Albertans have died from the disease.

Alberta’s positivity rate on Sunday sat at four per cent, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.

As soon as Monday, the Alberta government could ease restrictions on retail businesses, banquet halls, community halls, conference centres, hotels, indoor fitness, and children’s sport and performance activities.

Read more: Alberta doctors urge province to hold off on easing COVID-19 restrictions next week

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Ladha said she is in support of a statement that was released Friday by the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association that “strongly” recommended the province “not move forward” with the easing plan.

“The big concern is that as we open things up, the variant, in particular, will become the dominant strain,” Ladha said. “That’s been shown in many other jurisdictions to be the case, and it will quickly spread throughout the community.”

‘Why are we being reactive rather than proactive?’

She added that the “back and forth” reopening and closing method could lead to a rise in cases and ultimately hurt the economy.

“We closed down too late; we open up too soon,” she said. “This leads to really sharp, high waves. We had one of the worst second waves in the nation, and it leads to loss of life, suffering, long-term health consequences, and it doesn’t benefit the economy because we have to lock down again.”

On Sunday, there were 250 people in hospital, 46 of whom were in intensive care, Alberta Health said.

Ladha says she doesn’t believe the hospitalization rate — which must be below 450 for the next reopening phase to go ahead — is necessarily a good indicator.

“Even as cases increase, hospitalizations can remain the same or decrease because it takes time for people to get sick,” she said. “And once they get sick, it takes a couple of weeks for them to actually be sick enough to need (to go to the) hospital.”

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Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, has said the reopening plan is not definite yet because the positivity rate and other indicators are rising.

Click to play video 'Rising COVID-19 R value causes concern in B.C, Alberta, Saskatchewan' Rising COVID-19 R value causes concern in B.C, Alberta, Saskatchewan

Rising COVID-19 R value causes concern in B.C, Alberta, Saskatchewan

Read more: Experts concerned over possible 3rd wave of COVID-19 in Alberta

Ladha said she’s hoping the province sticks to a more cautious plan amid the current case levels.

“Why are we being reactive rather than proactive? The move to open things up further, when we know cases are actually not declining, would be something that would lack foresight and would cause a lot of problems in weeks to come.”

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