With Christmas just around the corner, questions are looming about whether Albertans will be able to gather with loved ones during the holidays — but with the province unable to “bend the curve” of COVID-19 cases back down, an easing up of current restrictions isn’t looking likely.
It’s been nearly two weeks since the Alberta government introduced new, targeted public health restrictions, yet cases continue to steadily climb with 1,735 new infections reported Monday.
According to Dr. Stephanie Smith, it’s not a matter of whether the curve bends back down — more a question of whether it continues to trend upward.
“I think that if we, as Albertans, continue to… behave in the way that we have, then I think we will continue to see new cases,” she said. “And whether [the curve] is kind of flat or continue to rise, I think it’s a little hard to know.”
Smith said if the restrictions were enough, we’d be seeing a “more significant” decline in cases already. She added that while the incubation period for COVID-19 is 14 days, most people start to show symptoms around five to seven days after they’ve been infected.
University of Calgary infectious disease expert Dr. Craig Jenne said Alberta hasn’t seen “any hint” that current measures are working, and every day that passes under the current situation means more viral transmission.
“More cases means more Albertans lost, more family members lost, and we really need to get this under control and we’re not seeing evidence that the current measures are impacting that yet,” he said.
Jenne also referenced places like shopping centres, which don’t have the same capacity limits as restaurants and shops, some of which have been overrun with people in recent weeks as the holidays approach.
“We know the way this virus goes, that those will lead to transmission events, and unfortunately we will see increased cases for the next several weeks,” Jenne said.
Dr. Denna Hinshaw said Monday “the current measures that we have in place are not likely to be sufficient to bring down our numbers.”
“If the goal is to bring our numbers down, we will need additional measures to be able to do that,” she said.
“I think that the exact restrictions that are needed, that’s where that that question lies. But I do believe we do need additional restrictions in order to bring our case numbers down and protect our health-care system.”
‘May well see a spike after Christmas’
Even if new restrictions were introduced this week, it could take up to a month to see the full effect of stricter measures, if they’re strictly followed — meaning a Christmas with even a small group of family members is unlikely to be on the table.
“I think there’s no way that restrictions are going to be rolled back, given the numbers that we’re seeing,” Smith said.
“So I think the question remains: are people going to adhere to the restrictions? Because I think that’s the challenge we’re seeing.”
Jenne said there is “good evidence in Alberta that despite recommendations, people are not following them and that’s another major issue.”
Smith said she’s worried about peoples’ willingness to follow guidelines at Christmas and what it could mean for cases in the future.
“I think that peoples’ desire to see their family and have some kind of Christmas will overcome their… worry about risk,” she said.
“And so we may well see a spike after Christmas if we see groups gathering.”
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