Alberta’s top doctor revealed positive trends in the province’s COVID-19 case rates at continuing-care centres and schools on Monday, although she continued to caution the trends could reverse quickly.
Active cases peaked at 776 in long-term care facilities in late December but dropped to 63 by Saturday — a 92 per cent decline in less than two months — according to Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
In schools, Hinshaw said there has been a 63 per cent drop in active cases since classes reopened for in-person learning on Jan. 11, from more than 2,000 cases to under 800.
As well, Alberta has reported a downward trend in the number of deaths from an average high of 167 per week at the end of December to 23 over the last seven days.
“These trends were not inevitable and are not due to just the passing of time. These trends are the result of our willingness to put our community’s needs first and care for each other every day,” Hinshaw said during a Monday news conference.
However, despite these positive trends Hinshaw said COVID-19 still poses a serious threat and people’s choices still matter.
New case rates are beginning to plateau instead of continuing to drop, there is a steady increase of variant cases and it will be several months before the majority of the population will be eligible for the vaccine.
“All this means we must be extra cautious. If given the chance, this virus will spread widely and we risk losing the gains we have made together,” said Hinshaw.
“The downward trends we’re seeing in schools, hospitals, long-term care facilities and other settings, serve as a reminder that we have the power to limit transmission when we limit our in-person interaction and follow, not only the details of the restrictions in place, but also the spirit of them.”
Alberta reported 273 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, representing a test positivity rate of 4.5 per cent. As well, another 11 cases of the variant first identified in the United Kingdom were reported in Alberta on Monday, bringing the total reported to 282.
The new cases bring the total number of active cases to 4,675, while 324 people remain in hospital with COVID-19, including 53 in intensive-care units.
Sixteen deaths were reported Monday, bringing the provincial death toll to 1,843. Several of the newly reported deaths are from December which have now been identified post-mortem as being caused by COVID-19.
Hinshaw also expressed concern for the province’s R-value (reproduction number), which has crept above one in the last week, settling at 1.03. An R-value above one means the transmission rate was increasing.
Broken down into regions, the R-value in the Edmonton and Calgary zones remained below one; however, in the rest of Alberta it averaged at 1.13 over the last week.
The decision about when the province can safely move into its second step of the economic reopening plan — affecting retail, banquet and community halls, conference centres, hotels, indoor fitness and children’s sport and performance — won’t be made until at least March 1, Hinshaw said.
Alberta Health has said it will try to give a week’s notice before reopening businesses.
Since leading indicators like positivity rate, cases and R-value are trending slightly up right now, health officials need the full three weeks between the first and second steps of reopening to determine if it’s safe to move forward.
“This will give us that chance to fully evaluate whether this is a few days of fluctuations, or whether this is a longer trend that is concerning,” said Hinshaw.
Alberta has administered 173,539 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, including the first and second doses for 69,362 people.
Ahead of Monday’s press conference, Hinshaw said on Twitter that vaccines are safe, effective and save lives.
“I encourage all Albertans who wish to be, to get immunized as soon as they are eligible. This will help to further protect ourselves, our loved ones and those around us against COVID-19.”
Also Monday, the federal government’s mandatory three-day hotel quarantine for air travellers came into effect.
The tighter measures at the border are meant to keep everyone safe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said. The hotel stays are paid for by the travellers and are meant to limit the spread of COVID-19 and the variants considered more transmissible than the dominant virus strain.
Upon arriving in Canada, air travellers will have had to submit a negative test. They will need to be tested when they arrive and will also be tested toward the end of their mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Meanwhile, travellers arriving at land borders will be given self-swab kits, and testing will be provided on-site at five high-volume border crossings. The new rules are in addition to previous orders that require a negative test result within 72 hours of arrival. Travellers will need to complete a second test on day 10 of their self-isolation period.
— With files from The Canadian Press