'We're in a lot of trouble': What's happening in Alberta as it shatters multiple COVID-19 case records?
TORONTO -- Alberta has become one of the hot spots for COVID-19 in Canada during this third wave of the pandemic.
The province broke its daily COVID-19 record for the third day in a row on Saturday when it reported 2,433 new infections. As of Sunday afternoon, Alberta’s test positivity rate hit 12 per cent, its highest since the pandemic started.
“What we're seeing right now is really uncontrolled viral growth,” Dr. Craig Jenne, infectious disease researcher and a Canada Research Chair at the University of Calgary, told CTV News Channel on Sunday.
“If Alberta was the size of Ontario, we'd be talking about over 8,000 cases in a single day,” Jenne said.
Alberta’s seven-day average for cases per 100,000 people nearly doubles that of Ontario – which is in the midst of its own troubling third wave – with 41.43 cases, according to CTV News’ COVID-19 case tracker.
“We’re in a lot of trouble here and we really need help,” Calgary emergency room physician Dr. Joe Vipond told CTV News Channel. “There’s a whole raft of measures that could be put in place in order to mitigate the spread, we just haven't been able to convince our leaders to do so.”
According to CTVNews.ca’s tracker which calculates reported cases per million people each day for American states and Canadian provinces and territories, Alberta ranks second with 414.3. Only Michigan, with 427.3 cases per million people, are ahead of them. Ontario and Nunavut are ranked eighth and ninth, respectively.
Vipond, a clinical assistant professor at the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, called the third wave in the province “predictable and preventable,” adding that “we could have avoided this, but now we're in the thick of it because our leaders have really avoided making those hard decisions,” he said.
Jenne echoed that, saying there’s “no real evidence that any of the restrictions so far are bringing these numbers under control.”
'HARD TO IMAGINE' NEW RULES WILL BE ENOUGH: DOCTOR
In light of the mounting cases, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney last Thursday announced new restrictions for cities with high COVID-19 case counts, such as Edmonton, Calgary, Fort McMurray and Red Deer.
These measures included shutting down indoor fitness and indoor sports, and moving all junior and senior high schools in the targeted regions to online-only learning.
But Jenne said the measures are not enough and that “current restrictions are below those that we needed in December to bring wave two under control.” Vipond agreed, calling the new measures “minimal.”
“These aren't really major announcements. It's really hard to imagine that this is going to make any difference,” he said. “And the sad reality with exponential growth is we can expect things to be getting much, much worse before they get better.”
Vipond said in order to mitigate the recent wave, the government needs to enact measures across the province, not just in major cities. He suggested closing non-essential retail, limiting people going into essential businesses and closing schools from kindergarten through to grade six, which he acknowledges will be hard on parents.
He also said the province needs to more strongly urge the use of masks and to force employees who can work from home to stop going into the office.
Jenne said that measures may be too little too late when it comes to an expected spike in intensive care unit cases.
“As pointed out, even by the premier last week, if that curve stopped today, if it flattened today and started to go down, we can anticipate intensive care unit admissions to continue to rise for probably the next two weeks.”
He said hospitals are now scrambling to ensure they not only have additional beds, but also health-care staff to tend to patients.
New coronavirus variants now make up more than 60 per cent of all cases in the province.
“It’s huge not only because we know they are more transmissible, but we also know that they have an increased impact on younger patients,” Vipond said, noting he’s seen increased ICU visits among younger Canadians.
PEOPLE TAKING CUE FROM LEADERS?
Vipond said some Albertans appear to have taken their cue not to take the rules seriously from elected leaders, whose approach he said has been more hands-off than it should have been throughout the pandemic.
Many people continue to flout guidelines from public health officials. On Saturday, thousands flocked to a “No More Lockdowns” rodeo in rural Alberta. Jenne said his frustration regarding these rule-breakers is “difficult to put into words.”
He said people have no excuse because, for more than a year, Canadians have known how to stop the spread.
“People have sacrificed so much to preserve our health-care system and to preserve… literally the lives of our neighbours and our community members.”
Although law enforcement was on the scene, the gathering wasn’t broken up. Both doctors urged officials to crack down on those breaking the rules.
“We’ve had instances when our political leaders have been, in the past, minimizing the pandemic calling it the flu,” he said. “They’ve been passively endorsing protests like this and they’ve refused to really crack down on any of these protests.”
Jenne saying without that, “we essentially have no tools left to bring these viral numbers under control.”
Vipond said “every time I see somebody who is unwell with COVID, I'm reminded that we should be doing a lot better.”
He did note, however, that vaccinations across the province have led the mortality rate during the third wave to be been much lower than the second wave.
“It’s really a testament to the power of vaccines and why it's really important that everybody get their vaccine shot.”