Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Tuesday, Dec. 29

The latest:

  • Health officials on Monday said Alberta’s COVID-19 death toll had surpassed a grim benchmark of 1,000 as the province reported 112 additional deaths over a five-day period. The province has now logged a total of 1,002 fatalities.
  • Katalin Lang is one of the countless Albertans who are trying to keep their loved ones’ memories alive by reminding people to think about the deceased victims of COVID-19 and those they left behind. She and her mother, dressed in full personal protective equipment, had to say their final words to her father, Jozsef Lang, 88, through protective masks before he died at the end of November, days after contracting COVID-19 while living at Clifton Manor nursing home in Calgary. “I think that it just struck me that everybody was fixated on numbers and they still are,” Lang said from her home in Medicine Hat. “And I understand it in a way, because it allows you to be emotionally detached. I just wanted it to be clear, that for every number there is emotion attached, there are memories attached. There are families attached. There is grief attached. They lived full lives and their loss is deeply, deeply felt.” 

  • Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, provided an update on case numbers and hospitalizations on Monday, after a break over the Christmas holiday. She’ll next speak on Jan. 5, and online case numbers will be updated Tuesday, Wednesday and next Monday.
  • Alberta now has 15,487 active cases. On Dec. 23, it reported 1,007 new cases, 1,191 on Dec. 24, 914 on Dec. 25, 459 on Dec. 26 and 917 on Dec. 27. The province said fewer people were tested over the holidays. 
  • However, hospitalizations have continued to increase, with 878 people in hospital, and 148 in intensive care. 
  • As of Monday’s update, there were currently 1,363 active and 5,008 recovered cases at long-term care facilities. Of all reported deaths, 66 per cent have been at long-term care sites. 
  • The province said the testing positivity rate hovered between 6 and 7 per cent over the last five days before Monday, and was 9.6 per cent on Sunday.
  • The first case of the COVID-19 variant first identified in the U.K. has arrived in Alberta. Hinshaw said the case is linked to a person who recently arrived from the U.K., and that the person is currently in isolation. 
  • More than 6,000 Albertans have now received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, after Alberta Health Services began to roll out an additional 25,350 doses of the vaccine to all health-care zones last Wednesday.
  • The government plans to administer the vaccine to 29,000 health-care workers by the end of December and give to long-term care residents, staff who work in long-term care and designated supportive living centres, health-care workers in the highest risk areas of hospitals and people over the age of 75 in the first quarter of 2021.
  • The 2020 tax season will look different for many Albertans, financial experts say.  For many, the pandemic changed their job situation, the source of their income and introduced unexpected expenses like medical or childcare. 
  • Anyone who has been in the United Kingdom in the past 14 days should get tested for COVID-19, whether they’re symptomatic or not in view of the new, potentially more contagious strain of the coronavirus spreading in that country, the Alberta government said on Dec. 21. The province also said travellers from the UK who are participating in Alberta’s border pilot rapid-test program must immediately quarantine, whether they’ve had a negative test or not.
  • Parks Canada is asking hikers and skiers heading to the trails and hills to plan ahead, as COVID restrictions may force plans to shift, especially during the winter holidays.

What you need to know today in Alberta

Hinshaw asked people not to become complacent now that case numbers are trending downward and suggested people have virtual celebrations to mark the new year.

“Let’s finish the year strong by following both the details and the spirit of the rules that are in place,” she said on Monday.

Alberta crossed a tragic milestone on Monday, with more than 1,000 deaths in the province due to COVID-19.

“To all those who are grieving, Alberta grieves with you. Words cannot ease the pain caused by this loss, and I know it seems unfair that public safety measures mean we cannot say a proper goodbye to those who mean so much to us,” said Premier Jason Kenney in a release. “This is part of COVID-19’s heartbreaking cost. It is why we must all work together to support those who have lost someone and do all we can to spare others from experiencing this grief.”

The province reported new case numbers and hospitalizations on Monday, after a break over the holidays.

Over the past five days, Alberta saw the following new case numbers, tests completed, and deaths (note far fewer tests were conducted over the holidays): 

  • Dec. 23: 1,007 daily new cases, 15,585 tests, 30 new deaths.
  • Dec. 24: 1,191 daily new cases, 17,845 tests, 18 new deaths.
  • Dec. 25: 914 daily new cases, 14,193 tests, 17 new deaths.
  • Dec. 26: 458 daily new cases, 6,866 tests, 27 new deaths. 
  • Dec. 27: 917 daily new cases, 9,633 tests, 20 new deaths. 

Premier Jason Kenney says new exemption allows Albertans who live alone to spend time with others over the holiday. 2:50

Fewer tests were completed over the Christmas break, but the positivity rate was 9.6 per cent as of Sunday. 

Hospitalizations have continued to increase, with 878 people in hospital, and 148 in intensive care. 

Alberta has now reported its first case of a COVID-19 variant, linked to a traveller from the U.K. who is in isolation.

“We are working with the Public Health Agency of Canada to be able to get the flight details and the list of individuals who were on the same plane. There’s a time delay between when that individual arrived and when the symptoms began, and so it’s something that’s a theoretical possibility of transmission, so we are going to be following up specifically with individuals who were seated in close rows,” Hinshaw said.

“But again, at the moment, we have looked at the situation and believe that the risk is very low, but we will be making those phone calls to make sure that we are providing that additional information to anyone who may have been seated near this individual on the flight.”

The new variant is believed to spread more easily and faster than the original version of the virus, based on modelling and some epidemiological data, but it is not believed to be more deadly.

Remembering some of the Albertans who have been identified as killed by COVID-19:

The province wasn’t able to immediately provide details on enforcement of public health restrictions over the holidays, after videos circulated showing some crowded shopping malls in Calgary and Edmonton on Boxing Day. 

Indoor retail spaces are limited to 15 per cent of capacity until at least mid-January. Not following the mandatory restrictions can result in fines of $1,000 or up to $100,000 through the courts.

The winter holidays are usually the busiest season for air travel. But this year, about 80 per cent fewer travellers will pass through the doors of the Calgary International Airport in late December, according to the airport authority’s spokesperson.

About 50,000 travellers take off from or land at Calgary International Airport per day during the holiday season in an average year, said Reid Feist, spokesperson for the Calgary Airport Authority.

But this year, the holidays fall amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many jurisdictions have discouraged all non-essential to prevent further spread of the illness. As a result, the airport authority predicted that only about 10,000 travellers would go through the Calgary airport “for the period before Christmas all the way through New Year’s,” said Feist.

“For those who have to travel for essential travel reasons, the airport remains open. And of course, our focus is on everyone’s safety as they move through the airport or arrive at the airport,” he said.

The Calgary airport is facing a $67-million deficit this year thanks to the unprecedented drop in demand for air travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A passenger sits at the Calgary Airport on Oct. 30 amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. As of Thursday, the province said 14,382 travellers had taken tests in a pilot project for international travellers at the Calgary airport. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews says the goal in 2021 is to get vaccines out and put the COVID-19 pandemic in the rear-view mirror, then work to fix a battered and beleaguered economy.

But with a $21-billion deficit and Alberta’s oil and gas economy still in flux, where’s the money going to come from?

“We will not cut our way out of a $21-billion deficit,” Toews said in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press. “We have to get the economy growing again. And economic recovery will very quickly become job No. 1 as we start to get past the pandemic.”

At the start of 2020, Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government was busy trying to resuscitate an already suffering economy only to see COVID-19 blow everything apart and take with it Kenney’s key election promise to balance the deficit in his first term.

That goal is now a distant memory with a projected budget deficit this year tripling an original forecast of $6.8 billion. COVID-19 has slashed demand for energy, shuttered businesses and necessitated relief aid and job supports to keep people going.

Finance Minister Travis Toews said economic recovery will be a top priority for the province in 2021 after pandemic recovery. (Trevor Wilson/CBC )

Over the course of its 101 years, Fairplay Pet Supply has become well-versed in weathering tough times. 

Since opening in 1919 it has withstood the Spanish Flu, two world wars, a polio outbreak, the Great Depression, provincial recessions and the flood of 2013.

In 2020, it faces another curve ball: the COVID-19 pandemic that has dealt an economic blow to local businesses.

According to owner Christine Nurse, it’s nothing the store can’t handle.

“My family and I were talking about it, [and] saying, ‘You know, think about what Fairplay has gone through and seen,'” she said. “We personally weren’t here, but the store is a survivor.”

Originally located on Memorial Drive and 10th Street S.W. when it opened in 1919, Fairplay Pet Supply is currently found on Kensington Road. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Shopping at the Noel Christmas Light Park and Market looks different this year, but as one of the few indoor activities still happening in the city, some entrepreneurs say it’s been a lifeline during a time when business should be booming.

The market, held at Calgary’s BMO Centre, has implemented capacity limits, physical distancing, and strict sanitization and disinfection procedures. Instead of enjoying treats like mini doughnuts inside, shoppers must take them to-go. And, when entering the building, attendees go through a health questionnaire which includes having their temperatures taken. 

Manager Annette McArthur says the pandemic precautions haven’t dampened shoppers’ spirits. “They’re just happy to be able to get out of their house and go somewhere that is festive and fun and makes them forget, just even for a little while, that we’re in the middle of a health crisis,” she said. 

The market will be open until Jan. 3. 

Shoppers browse at the Noel Christmas Market in Calgary. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

Parks Canada is asking hikers and skiers heading to the trails to plan ahead, as COVID-19 restrictions may force plans to shift, especially during the winter holidays.

Daniella Rubeling, visitor experience manager for the agency’s Banff field unit, says one of the most important things to prepare for is the weather. 

“Winter weather conditions can change quickly. And as we can see today, you know, the weather conditions can be quite extreme sometimes. And so we want to make sure people are prepared with the right clothing, the right gear, checking the conditions before they go and making sure that they have some alternative plans in place,” she said on Tuesday.

“So should weather conditions change or parking lots be full … have some backup areas to visit.”

This immersive art exhibit in Banff is helping locals find the Christmas spirit. Find out what you’re missing if you live outside the Bow Valley. 3:26

Another concern, Rubeling said, is people who are new to winter outdoor recreation.

While there are some closures, there’s still plenty to do in the mountain town and park — like winter walks, cross-country skiing and fat-biking. There is also downhill skiing, but some hills like Lake Louise have moved toward a reservation system.

People can visit the Parks Canada website for details on what’s open, what’s closed, what parking lots are full and how to enjoy the park safely, Rubeling said. 

Click on the map below to zoom in or out on specific local geographic areas in Alberta and find out more about COVID-19 there:

Here is the detailed regional breakdown of active cases updated as of Monday:

  • Calgary zone: 5,429, down from 6,470 reported on Dec. 23. (32,152 recovered).
  • Edmonton zone: 7,127, down from 8,427 (34,672 recovered).
  • North zone: 1,049, down from 1,092 (5,537 recovered).
  • South zone: 301, down from 390 (4,568 recovered). 
  • Central zone: 1,484, up from 1,391 (4,708 recovered).
  • Unknown: 51, down from 117 (150 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

What you need to know today in Canada:

As of Monday evening, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 555,207, with 74,112 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 15,122.

Ontario reported a single-day high of 2,553 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday as public health officials faced criticism for scaling down the province’s vaccination program over the holidays.

Tuesday’s update also included another 1,939 cases from Sunday, as no new numbers were published on the stat holiday yesterday, for a two-day total of 4,492 additional infections.

The record 2,553 cases include 895 in Toronto, 496 in Peel Region, 147 in Windsor-Essex, 144 in Hamilton and 142 in York Region.

They bring the province’s seven-day average to 2,236. 

Quebec on Monday reported 2,265 new cases of COVID-19 and 37 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 8,060 — and the national total to more than 15,000. Hospitalizations in the hard-hit province stood at 1,124 with 150 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units, according to a provincial dashboard

In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador reported two new cases, along with four recoveriesNew Brunswick reported one new case on Monday. Nova Scotia, meanwhile, announced 13 new cases from the past four days.

Manitoba health officials announced 107 new COVID-19 cases and nine additional deaths on Monday. The case count marks the lowest single-day total since Nov. 3, although the 1,076 tests completed on Sunday was the lowest since Sept. 14.

In British Columbia, Fraser Health declared two new COVID-19 outbreaks at senior care facilities in the Lower Mainland on Monday, while an outbreak at Agassiz Seniors Community has been declared over.

Five residents and two staff members have tested positive for the virus at Rideau Retirement Residence in Burnaby, B.C., while two staff members have also tested positive at Brookside Lodge, located in Surrey, B.C., according to a statement.

Self-assessment and supports:

With winter cold and influenza season upon us, Alberta Health Services will prioritize Albertans for testing who have symptoms, and those groups which are at higher risk of getting or spreading the virus.

General asymptomatic testing is currently unavailable for people with no known exposure to COVID-19.

Those who test positive will be asked to use the online COVID-19 contact tracing tool, so that their close contacts can be notified by text message.

The province says Albertans who have returned to Canada from other countries must self-isolate. Unless your situation is critical and requires a call to 911, Albertans are advised to call Health Link at 811 before visiting a physician, hospital or other health-care facility.

If you have symptoms, even mild, you are to self-isolate for at least 10 days from the onset of symptoms, until the symptoms have disappeared. 

You can find Alberta Health Services’ latest coronavirus updates here.

The province also operates a confidential mental health support line at 1-877-303-2642 and addiction help line at 1-866-332-2322, both available 24 hours a day. 

Online resources are available for advice on handling stressful situations and ways to talk with children.

There is a 24-hour family violence information line at 310-1818 to get anonymous help in more than 170 languages, and Alberta’s One Line for Sexual Violence is available at 1-866-403-8000, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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