Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Saturday, Feb. 27

The latest:

  • A group of Edmonton medical staff are calling on the province to delay plans to move forward with further relaxation of COVID-19 measures.
  • Alberta Health confirmed Friday there are now three deaths linked to a COVID-19 outbreak at the Olymel meat-packing plant in Red Deer.
  • Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw will not be providing a live update until March 1.
  • CBC Calgary and CBC Edmonton will be posting new numbers as they are published online by the provincial government.
  • Health Canada approved use of the COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca on Friday, clearing the way for millions of more inoculations in Canada.
  • Northern Alberta continues to see an increase in COVID-19 infections, with more than 1,000 active cases across the health zone.
  • The pandemic derailed the Alberta government’s plans to return to a balanced budget, as Thursday it proposed nearly $62 billion in spending for 2021-22.
  • Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Thursday that 100,000 Alberta seniors born in 1946 or earlier are now booked to receive their COVID-19 vaccination.
  • Combined with the 28,000 seniors in long-term care who have already been vaccinated, Shandro said more than half of Alberta’s population over 75 have been vaccinated or are booked to be vaccinated.
  • Appointments for Albertans born in 1946 or earlier are supposed to be booked online or by calling 811.
  • They are to be booked at 58 sites around the province, between 8:20 a.m. and 3:40 p.m., seven days a week. The government has said that those hours will be extended as more doses arrive. More than 230,000 seniors will be eligible. 
  • Shandro said vaccinations for those 75 and older will soon be available at 102 community pharmacies in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer as well as at the AHS sites. A list of participating pharmacies is available on the Alberta Blue Cross website.
  • Cases in Alberta’s long-term care homes have plummeted by 92 per cent following vaccinations.
  • Premier Jason Kenney said all residents in long-term care and designated supportive living have now received their second shot of the vaccine.
  • Shandro said Thursday that family doctors and their clinical staff will be included in Phase 2 of Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. That’s expected to take place between April and September.
  • Alberta reported 356 new cases on Friday and three more deaths from the illness, the lowest number of COVID-19 deaths reported by the province in a single day since October.
  • There are 4,505 active cases across the province, an increase of 21 from the day before.
  • All three deaths announced Friday were from the Central health zone.

  • Hospitalizations from the disease continue to decline — there are 269 people being treated in hospital for COVID-19, including 55 in intensive care beds. 

  • The province has already met the hospitalization thresholds for both Step 2 and 3, and could choose to move to Step 2 of the phased reopening plan as early as Monday. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said the government will also consider leading indicators like R-value, new cases and positivity rate, when deciding to move to the next phase of reopening. 

  • The province has confirmed a total of 355 cases of people infected with a coronavirus variant — 348 of the strain first identified in the U.K. and seven of the strain first identified in South Africa.
  • 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 4.38 per cent, down from 4.6 per cent the previous day. However some regions, like northern Alberta, are seeing testing positivity rates as high as 10 per cent.
  • The province’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout has now seen 207,300 doses of vaccine administered. That number includes 82,989  Albertans who are fully immunized with two doses of vaccine. 

    See the detailed regional breakdown

    Here is the detailed regional breakdown of active cases as of Friday:

    • Calgary zone: 1,523, up from 1,510.
    • Edmonton zone: 908, up from 897.
    • North zone: 1,016, no change.
    • South zone: 327, up from 319.
    • Central zone: 722, down from 737.
    • Unknown: 9, up from 5.

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

(CBC)

Here are the latest Alberta COVID-19 stories:


Edmonton medical staff group calls for delaying move to Step 2 of reopening

A group of Edmonton medical staff are calling on the province to delay plans to move forward with further relaxation of COVID-19 measures.

The Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association (EZMA) released a letter Friday saying that instead of moving to Step 2 of its reopening plan, the Alberta government should close bars and restaurants to indoor service or, at least, institute capacity limits. 

Dr. James Talbot, co-chair of EZMA’s pandemic committee, worries that the province is getting ahead of itself. 

“You’re virtually guaranteeing that you are going to miss the signal,” Talbot said.

“They should be waiting longer if they are going to use hospitalizations [as a lagging indicator] and in fact they should be using active cases.”

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer, said the province would not make a decision to further ease restrictions until Monday at the earliest.  After a steady decline since December, Alberta’s daily new cases and test positivity rate have plateaued and showed signs of trending upward since the province entered Step 1 on Feb. 8, which included reopening bars and restaurants for in-person service.


Third COVID-19 death linked to outbreak at Olymel meatpacking plant in Red Deer

Alberta Health confirmed two more deaths linked to a COVID-19 outbreak at the Olymel meatpacking plant in Red Deer on Friday, bringing the total to three.

Henry De Leon, 50, who worked at the plant for 15 years, died on Wednesday after spending three weeks on a ventilator, his family told CBC News

The other Olymel outbreak-related death reported by the province on Friday was a woman in her 60s, who died on Sunday.

Alberta Health does not report the identities of people who die of COVID-19. 

The first COVID-19 death linked to the outbreak was Darwin Doloque, 35, who died on Jan. 28

There are 500 cases linked to the outbreak at the Red Deer meatpacking plant, according to the most recent update from Alberta Health. Of those, 156 are considered active.


Health Canada approves use of AstraZeneca vaccine

Health Canada has approved use of the COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca, clearing the way for millions of more inoculations in Canada.

Canada’s regulatory experts had been assessing the submission from AstraZeneca and Oxford University for safety and efficacy since October, and announced their approval this morning.

A health worker shows a vial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19 being used during a priority vaccination program for the elderly at a vaccination center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (Silvia Izquierdo/The Associated Press)

“AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine is indicated for active immunization of individuals 18 years of age and older for the prevention of coronavirus disease 2019,” reads their website.

“The efficacy of the vaccine was estimated to be 62.1 per cent. Overall, there are no important safety concerns and the vaccine was well tolerated by participants.”

Canada has secured access to 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.


COVID-19 cases rising in northern Alberta as province reports eight more deaths

Northern Alberta continues to see an increase in COVID-19 infections, with more than 1,000 active cases across the health zone.

The province reported 399 new cases on Thursday, a slight decline from the day before, while hospitalization numbers dropped below 300 for the first time in many weeks.

Alberta Health also reported another 32 new cases of a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom. The province has now confirmed 348 cases of variant B117, and continues to have seven cases of B1351, first identified in South Africa.

There were 4,484 active cases in the province, with 280 people treated in hospitals for the illness, including 56 in ICU beds, according to the latest update released by Alberta Health.

Another eight deaths were reported to Alberta Health over the last 24 hours, including four that dated back to January.


100,000 Alberta seniors book COVID-19 vaccination as AHS says website ‘stabilized’

More than 100,000 newly eligible Alberta seniors had scheduled COVID-19 vaccinations by early Thursday afternoon and several thousand had received their first doses, according to the province, with many saying they looked forward to being able to safely visit family and friends someday soon.

Meanwhile, Alberta Health Services promised it had fixed the issues that caused its system to crash repeatedly the previous day while tens of thousands tried for hours to book vaccinations.

At least one expert said it never needed to happen.

Mary House, 80, receives her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Calgary on Feb. 24. (Alberta Health Services)

The province said earlier in the week that about 230,000 Albertans would be newly eligible when the system opened at 8 a.m. Wednesday to all those born in 1946 or earlier. 

Seniors who are residents of public long-term care and designated supportive-living facilities had already received the vaccine.

With 100,000 appointments already booked, that means more than 40 per cent of those newly eligible had booked their shots by calling 811 or through the online booking tool by 2 p.m. on Thursday — less than 30 hours after the system opened up to them.


Pandemic spending derails Alberta government’s plan for balanced budget

Fixated on bolstering the health-care system during the COVID-19 pandemic, Alberta’s United Conservative Party government has postponed its promise of a fiscal reckoning to a later, undetermined time.

A government that one year ago insisted the province had a spending problem will now raise Alberta’s planned expenses by eight per cent compared to last year, proposing nearly $62 billion in spending for 2021-22.

Finance Minister Travis Toews said Alberta’s situation has changed dramatically, and so should the government’s plans.

The Olymel pork-processing plant in Red Deer, Alta. A COVID-19 outbreak at the site has infected as many as 1 in 5 workers, Alberta Health Services says. (CBC)

“I’m not happy with COVID-19 and the pandemic, and having to deal with the resulting economic challenges of the province,” Toews said at a Thursday news conference before tabling the budget.

“This is where we find ourselves, and we have to adjust to make sure that we’re delivering the most competent, responsible governance possible.”

Among the planned spending this year is a $1.25-billion contingency fund to respond to COVID-19, which includes vaccination rollout. 

With an estimated $43.7 billion in revenue, Toews predicted an $18.2-billion deficit in the coming year — one of the largest in the province’s history.


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