Kenney calls rising COVID-19 variant cases a 'wake-up call,' 140 active cases in Fort McMurray

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Premier Jason Kenney urged Albertans to stay home over the Easter long weekend on Wednesday as the province reported its highest new COVID-19 case count in nearly three months.

Alberta recorded 871 new cases of COVID-19, the most since Jan. 13, and set a new record for variant cases with 406 identified.

Earlier in the day, Kenney called the rise in variants a “wake-up call” and asked the public to avoid socializing this weekend outside of their family groups, or close contact cohorts for those who live alone.

“We can see the end. But we have to finish this strongly without imposing massive pressure on our hospital system,” Kenney said.

“So, I would plead with Albertans, please be very careful and follow the public health guidelines and the restrictions in place. We think a lot of the spread that’s happening now is because people have become tired of all of this, they’ve either kind of forgotten about the guidelines or they just wish them away.”

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He said the COVID-19 variants, which have more severe health impacts, are driving up cases in the younger population and there is “no doubt” variant cases will start to “significantly show up” in hospitals. Kenney also reiterated the vast majority of transmission of COVID-19 happens at home.

“Let’s just buckle down in the next month or so to get us through this without threatening our hospital system. It’s critically important,” he said.

Despite the rising cases, Kenney shot down the idea of a lockdown to reach “COVID-zero,” adding it has never been Alberta’s approach.

“Our goal in Alberta at least is a balanced one. It’s a three-point goal,” Kenney said. “To control viral spread so that we can avoid significant numbers of preventable deaths. Number 2, to protect our health-care systems and the capacity of our hospitals and number 3, to minimize the damage on our broader social economic health resulting from restrictions.”

Kenney said the province is in a different place now than six or 12 months ago.

“We now have delivered vaccines to over half a million Albertans. By the end of this month, it’ll be well over a million,” he said.

“We probably have half a million people roughly with natural immunity. So right now we have about a quarter of our population with some degree protected.”

He added the province has excess ICU capacity and contract tracing has been expanded.

Meanwhile, there are 8,350 active cases across the province and of those, 2,660, or 31.9 per cent, are COVID-19 variant cases. Over the last 24 hours, 13,739 tests were completed for a positivity rate of 6.3 per cent. Wednesday’s new COVID-19 case count is the highest it’s been since Jan. 13, when 968 were detected.

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All of the new variant cases reported Wednesday were of the B.1.1.7 variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom.

There are currently 301 people hospitalized with COVID-19, unchanged from Tuesday. Of those, 63 are in intensive care units, an increase of five. Three more deaths raised the provincial death toll to 1,990.

As of end-of-day Tuesday, 634,997 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, or 14,360.3 doses per 100,000 people. There was an increase of 14,988 doses from the previous day. There are 101,298 Albertans fully immunized with two doses.

Phase 2B of Alberta’s vaccine rollout launched on Tuesday, with more than 13,000 people already booked, Alberta Health spokesman Tom McMillan said. More than 100,000 people are on waiting lists as more doses become available.

McMillan said a shipment of Moderna vaccines expected this week has been delayed and the province is anticipating it will not arrive until some time next week.

Kenney and Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw are expected to give a joint update on COVID-19 Thursday afternoon ahead of the long weekend.

With files from Jason Herring 

ajunker@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/JunkerAnna

COVID-19 numbers for Alberta, reported on March 31:                

  • Instructions on how to book a COVID-19 vaccine and who is eligible can be found here.
  • 148,332 people have been infected with the virus. The earliest known COVID-19 case in Alberta was detected in a blood sample collected on Feb. 24. The first case was announced on March 5.
  • Of those cases, 137,992 people have recovered, or 93 per cent of all cases.
  • 871 new cases were reported in the past 24 hours, bringing the active total to 8,350.
  • 301 people are in hospital, with 63 people in intensive care units. Privacy regulations means Alberta Health cannot release how many COVID-19 patients are being treated in local hospitals or health centres.
  • Three new deaths from COVID-19, totalling 1,990.
  • 13,739 people were tested for COVID-19 in the past 24 hours.
  • 634,790 vaccine doses have been administered in total; 101,264 people are fully immunized with both doses.

COVID-19 in Fort McMurray:            

  • 17 new active cases in the past 24 hours, bringing known active total to 140. The first case was reported in the city on March 19. 
  • No new recoveries in the past 24 hours, bringing total to 1,782. 
  • Alberta’s province-wide mask order remains active. 
  • Privacy regulations means Alberta Health cannot release how many COVID-19 patients are being treated in local hospitals or health centres. 
  • Three people have died from COVID-19 in Fort McMurray, with the last death reported on Dec. 24. The first death was reported Sept. 8. 

COVID-19 in rural areas and Wood Buffalo National Park:                

  • No new COVID-19 case in rural communities reported in the past 24 hours, keeping active total to four cases. Two of those cases are in Wood Buffalo National Park.
  • No new recoveries in rural areas or Wood Buffalo National Park in the past 24 hours, keeping the total at 148. 
  • AHS has not confirmed which rural communities have active COVID-19 cases, only community leaders have. 
  • Alberta’s province-wide mask order remains active. 
  • Privacy regulations means Alberta Health cannot release how many COVID-19 patients are being treated in local hospitals or health centres. 
  • There have been no deaths from COVID-19 in the RMWB’s rural areas. 

COVID-19 outbreaks at Wood Buffalo’s schools:              

  • Information on school outbreaks can be found online from Alberta Health Services. No school in Wood Buffalo has been ordered to close. 
  • Outbreak: Holy Trinity Catholic High School.
  • Alert: Ecole McTavish High School.
  • An outbreak is declared when five people linked to a public site, such as a workplace, test positive for COVID-19. At continuing care centres and schools, the number is two. 
  • An outbreak is over when no new COVID-19 cases have been reported after 30 days. 

COVID-19 outbreaks at Wood Buffalo’s workplaces:                 

  • Information on workplace outbreaks can be found online from Alberta Health Services
  • Canadian Natural’s Albian site.
  • Canadian Natural’s Horizon site.
  • Children First Eagle Ridge Nest 
  • Imperial Oil’s Kearl Lake site. 
  • Suncor’s base plant. 
  • Suncor’s Firebag Village. 
  • Syncrude’s Mildred Lake site. 
  • An outbreak is declared when five people linked to a public site, such as a workplace, test positive for COVID-19. At continuing care centres and schools, the number is two. 
  • An outbreak is over when no new COVID-19 cases have been reported after 30 days. 

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