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Friday , 26 February 2021
Alberta projections of daily hospitalizations if the UK variant of COVID-19 becomes the dominant strain and no health measures are in place.

Shandro warns “what if” scenario of UK variant could be dire

Although active case numbers continue to decline, three new deaths were reported in Lakeland communities over the weekend, including two in Lac La Biche and one in Smoky Lake.

Municipality Active Cases Jan. 21 Active Cases Jan. 24 Active Cases +/- Total Cases +/-
Lac La Biche County 1 1 0 0
Lac La Biche 81 75 -6 +8
I.D. 349 0 0 0 0
M.D. of Bonnyville No. 87 75 73 -2 +10
City of Cold Lake 83 76 -7 +10
County of St. Paul No. 19 103 91 -12 +26
Smoky Lake County 62 60 -2 +14
County of Two Hills No. 21 7 6 -1 +5
County of Vermilion River 14 18 +4 +6

 

Local Geographic Area Active Cases Jan. 11 Active Cases Jan. 12 Active +/- Total Cases +/-
Lac La Biche (Lac La Biche County, NW Smoky Lake County & I.D. 349) 84 78 -6 +8
Smoky Lake (Nearby Smoky Lake County & West Thorhild County) 11 15 +4 +6
Bonnyville (Nearby Bonnyville MD) 62 59 -3 +8
Cold Lake (East Bonnyville MD) 83 76 -7 +10
St. Paul (Saddle Lake and Surrounding St. Paul County) 90 78 -12 +31
Frog Lake (West St. Paul County & South Bonnyville MD) 75 72 -3 +7
Two Hills County 7 6 -1 +5
Vermilion River County 16 24 +8 +12

Kehewin Cree Nation Chief Okimaw Vernon Watchmaker announced Friday the Nation had achieved a return to zero active cases of COVID-19.

“I would just like to acknowledge the leadership, the emergency management team, the health centre, and especially a big acknowledgement to the community members for complying and helping to bend the curve, and to help in bringing those cases down. It was a collective effort, but at the same time I’d like to express that this is not the time to put our guard down, and we need to continue doing what we’re doing,” said Watchmaker.

As of Jan. 24, there is one active case in Kehewin.

There are two active cases in Saddle Lake, including one person in hospital. In an announcement posted to Facebook, the Saddle Lake Emergency Management Team said perimeter security checkpoints will be set up at the four main entry points to the Nation, the North/South road and 652 East and West. The checkpoints will begin on Jan. 26.

Provincial case numbers

A technical issue in case reporting caused 409 cases of COVID-19 to be added to dates between Dec. 7 and Jan. 13 according to Chief Medical Officer of Health for the province Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

Hinshaw said the issue was related to the reporting of rapid test results, and that it impacted the online reporting only.

“Each of these patients, still received their results and isolated during this time. So this did not impact the spread in our province. Also, the change in cases was spread over a long time period, so it would not have impacted any policy decisions,” said Hinshaw.

She said they have put processes in place to make sure the error is not repeated and that she was making the public aware today because it is important to be fully transparent about the case data being reported.

Across the province, she said 362 new cases were identified in the past 24 hours, and 25 new deaths were reported. There are now 637 people in hospital, including 113 receiving care in ICUs. The provincial positivity rate sits at approximately 5 per cent.

“Our hospitalizations have also declined, but unfortunately they remain very high. This is because hospitalization rates are a lagging indicator, and on average patients admitted due to COVID-19 have an average stay of 12 days. This can be even longer for the sickest patients who need ICU care. Until our hospitalization rates come down like our other numbers we need to continue with the measures in place,” said Hinshaw.

She said the decrease in hospitalizations is because of the majority of Albertans who have chosen to follow the public health orders in place.

Shandro warns “what if” scenario of UK variant could be dire

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro presented a series of alarming projections for the province following the announcement that a case of the COVID-19 variant common in the United Kingdom has been identified in an individual with no known travel link.

According to Shandro, there have been 20 cases of the UK variant and five cases of the South African variant of the virus.

“Let me be blunt, this is very concerning,” said Shandro. “Emerging research indicates that they have a significantly higher infection rate, estimated to be 30 to 50 per cent higher than we’ve had in Alberta to date.”

He noted a nursing home in Ontario has seen more than 200 residents and staff infected with the UK variant and more than 30 people have died from that one outbreak.

“We want to equip Albertans with facts, not fear. These graphs offer a prediction of what could happen if the virus spread rapidly in our province, without strong measures in place to limit in person interactions and transmission,” said Shandro [emphasis ours.]

According to Shandro, without continued public health measures the province could see upwards of 10,000 new cases per day within six weeks and a tripling of the hospitalizations seen in December.

Lakeland Connect did reach out to Alberta Health to request what the projections looked like with continued health measures in place. According to Alberta Health, no such projections are available at this time.

Shandro said the province will not be relaxing restrictions further at this time.

“We need to proceed cautiously, recognizing that our health system is still under significant strain. If we’re not careful, our healthcare system could be in a dire situation within weeks and it would be very difficult to get things under control.”

Shandro announced the province is scaling up genetic analysis of COVID-19 samples from the current 150 samples per week to 400 samples per week by Feb. 5. They are also continuing to expand rapid screening capacity and making changes to the border pilot program.

“Participants must remain in isolation until their second negative test comes back. If either test comes back positive, that person must isolate for the full 14 days,” said Shandro.

In the interest of transparency, Shandro said the government will also begin publishing weekly updates on COVID-19 variants in the province.

Vaccines

Shifting to the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine, Shandro was critical of the federal government.

“We have the ability to vaccinate many, many, more Albertans and to expand the groups who are eligible. But before we do that, we need the doses here in this province,” said Shandro.

He said the province has administered 99,453 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and almost 10,000 people are fully vaccinated at this point. According to Shandro, Alberta has the capacity to deliver 50,000 doses of vaccine each week if there is appropriate supply.

Because of issues in the supply chain with Pfizer, which is retooling a plant in Belgium, Canada receives no vaccine shipment this week, and next week’s shipment will be 78 per cent smaller than expected.

Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations Grand Chief Okimaw Vernon Watchmaker expressed dissatisfaction with the way indigenous communities have been excluded from conversations about vaccine delivery on reserves.

According to Watchmaker, Health Canada has been consulting with Alberta Health about the vaccine requirements for First Nations in the province.

“We should have been part of that planning on the onset, so that we can adequately address our current situations in the First Nations,” said Watchmaker.

He also said they have concerns about off-reserve members having access to the vaccine.

“We feel people off reserve are not going to be adequately accommodated and certainly would not be receiving anything as soon as we’d like to see it,” said Watchmaker.

He noted the First Nations have different challenges than many other communities because they don’t have hospitals or essential services like grocery stores, so members have no choice but to travel to the surrounding communities to buy those necessities. He also said the inadequate housing situation means it is common to have 15 plus people living in the same house which “makes it impossible to social distance.”

“When the federal government releases announcements on funding, it’s always national. There are more than 600 nations across Canada being considered in that funding, so our individual nations it’s always just a drop in the bucket,” said Watchmaker.

About Meredith Kerr

Meredith Kerr moved to St. Paul for a career in journalism and morning radio in 2014 expecting to stay for six months to a year. Since then, she has put down roots in the form of a husband, a mortgage, two babies, and a poorly behaved dog. She continues to work as a reporter until such time as she finishes her book and becomes fabulously wealthy from the royalties. Meredith also serves as a member at large on the St. Paul Library Board and volunteers as a Beaver leader for the 1st St. Paul Scout Group.