‘No changes’: Hinshaw reminds Alberta of work left to bring down COVID-19 numbers before easing rules

EDMONTON — Alberta’s chief medical officer of health confirmed Thursday the province would not be easing any more restrictions anytime soon.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced 678 new cases of COVID-19. Of 726 people hospitalized due to the disease, 119 are in intensive care.

That number, she reminded the public, is on level with the number of COVID-19 patients Alberta had in hospitals on Dec. 8, the day its strictest restrictions were announced.

“We are not in the clear just yet. That is why no additional measures are being eased at this time. There are no changes being announced today,” Hinshaw said.

“Our cases are falling, but we still have the second highest active case rate per capita in Canada.”

Alberta’s rate of current active cases sits at 242 per population of 100,000, second only to Saskatchewan with 315. Ontario and Quebec sit at 182 and 217 per 100,000, respectively.

The messaging from Alberta’s top doctor has remained consistent as the province neared two weeks since the December regulations had been extended.

When Premier Jason Kenney announced the rules prohibiting all indoor social gatherings and mandating masks in indoor public spaces would be in place longer, he specifically said “until at least Jan. 21.”

But earlier Thursday, Kenney told Calgary radio station Red 106.7 there was “no news” on when rules would be eased given the new, more contagious variants of COVID-19.

“We are going to wait and see the impact of opening the schools – that’s 720,000 people who are now together – and we have we just reopened personal services, expanded the numbers of people who can attend funerals and permitted small outdoor social gatherings,” he said. “So, those are initial steps and we’ll take more when it’s safe to do so.”

And, the “at least until Jan. 21” wording on Alberta.ca appeared to have been changed Jan. 15 to read, “All other mandatory restrictions will remain in place until further notice.” The update was made a day after some rules for outdoor gatherings and funerals were relaxed.

NO TIMELINE ESTIMATE

Hinshaw told media there had not yet been a decision made on how long the public health orders would remain in place.

“Of course it’s encouraging to see the leading indicators of our case counts and our positivity rate going down, but ultimately what is most important is that we make sure our acute care system is able to respond to all of our health needs. And to do that, we need to give it a bit more time,” she told reporters.

“The exact amount of time, again, it will really depend on how we collectively work together to keep those numbers coming down.”

The chief medical officer of health also said it was too soon for the province to begin reopening by region, which poses a threat of overtaxing the already stressed health system.

“Our health system is provincial… We do rely on that capacity in not in any one specific area but across the province and we do need to monitor that and make sure that we have enough capacity before we start opening up,” Hinshaw said.

“All of the sacrifices that have been made over the past several weeks, we would be squandering those by opening so quickly that our transmission rates would rebound when we have a baseline of over 700 people in hospital – and that’s exactly what we need to avoid.”

After 14,000 tests, Alberta’s positivity rate sits at 4.8 per cent.

Its COVID-19 death tally reached 1,500 with 16 more deaths reported to Alberta Health Services on Wednesday.

More than 96,500 doses of vaccine had been administered as of Jan. 20.

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