- Audio recordings of daily planning meetings obtained by CBC News as well as meeting minutes and interviews with staff involved in pandemic planning give a rare look at the push-and-pull of the COVID-19 response in Alberta.
- Alberta reported its 500th death on Wednesday as the province reported nine new deaths and 1,265 new cases of COVID-19.
- The province continued to break records on Wednesday with 13,719 active cases and 355 people in hospital.
- The City of Calgary declared a local state of emergency as of 1:31 p.m. Wednesday, saying it supported the tougher restrictions imposed by the Alberta government on Tuesday. Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the local state of emergency would let the city move quicker to respond to COVID-19.
- Calgary will not be immediately impose new restrictions of its own, but the move will allow the city to move quickly to procure supplies, deal with vulnerable Calgarians and access funds from other levels of government.
- Alberta Premier Jason Kenney declared a state of public health emergency on Tuesday afternoon, along with a slate of new restrictions that will remain in place for at least three weeks as his government tries to slow a pandemic raging on a day when the province reported 1,115 new cases and 13,349 active cases of the disease, by far the highest number yet.
- Peace officers or police can fine people who break restrictions $1,000 per ticketed offence and up to $100,000 through the courts.
- There are 355 people in hospital, 71 in ICU.
- Alberta Health plans to make available more than 2,000 acute-care beds and up to 400 ICU beds for patients with COVID-19 across the province in the coming weeks.
- Alberta’s move to online learning for students has received some mixed reviews from advocacy groups and school divisions.
- Eleven staff at the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel have tested positive for the virus, while another five have recovered. Fairmont says the cases were the result of transmission in the community, and in-staff housing, but did not occur within the hotel.
- The Town of Banff declared a local state of emergency on Wednesday night. AHS numbers indicate 153 active cases in the Banff National Park region as of Wednesday. Plans are in the works to set up a new testing facility in the mountain town.
What you need to know today in Alberta
The level of political direction — and, at times, interference — in Alberta’s pandemic response is revealed in 20 audio recordings of the daily planning meetings of the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) obtained by CBC News, as well as in meeting minutes and interviews with staff directly involved in pandemic planning.
Taken together, they reveal how Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and other cabinet ministers often micromanaged the actions of already overwhelmed civil servants; sometimes overruled their expert advice; and pushed an early relaunch strategy that seemed more focused on the economy and avoiding the appearance of curtailing Albertans’ freedoms than enforcing compliance to safeguard public health.
“What is there suggests to me that the pandemic response is in tatters,” said Ubaka Ogbogu, an associate law professor at the University of Alberta who specializes in public health law and policy.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney made his first public appearance since Nov. 12 on Tuesday, after quarantining due to a COVID-19 exposure for the second time, to announce that the province is once again under a state of public health emergency.
He announced a number of new mandatory restrictions that will remain in place for three weeks in an effort to slow the exponential spread of COVID-19 across the province.
- The new restrictions include:
- Indoor social gatherings: No indoor social gatherings allowed in any setting (private homes, public spaces or workplaces). Indoor close contacts must be limited to people in the same household. It doesn’t apply to service visits from caregivers, health or child care providers and co-parenting arrangements. People who live alone can have up to the same two non-household contacts throughout the restricted time. Work and support group meetings aren’t considered social gatherings but must follow public health measures and limit attendance.
- Outdoor social gatherings: Outdoor social gatherings are limited to 10 people. Movement in and out of homes aren’t permitted at backyard gatherings. Every must remain distanced and follow public health measures. Festivals and events are banned.
- The gathering restrictions don’t impact support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, which associate minister of mental health and addictions Jason Luan said are considered essential services. Members of those groups will still need to adhere to physical distancing and masking where applicable.
- Schools: Beginning Nov. 30, all students in Grades 7-12 will immediately move to online learning until they begin their winter break. Grades K-6 will continue in-person learning until their scheduled winter break (generally Dec. 18). In-person learning for all students will be delayed a week until Jan. 11.
- Weddings and funerals: Maximum of 10 people for wedding ceremonies or funeral services.
- Places of worship: Faith-based groups can operate with mandatory reduced capacity, of one-third of the building’s occupancy. Mask use is mandatory. This is only in effect in regions with enhanced status on the province’s COVID-19 map.
- Working from home: All businesses are encouraged to have employees work from home as much as possible. Kenney said that would include provincial government employees.
- Businesses that must close include banquet halls, conference centres, trade shows, auditoriums and concert venues, community centres, children’s play places and indoor playgrounds. Sports are also included in this category.
- Food and beverage: Restaurants, bars, pubs and lounges will be open. Tables can seat a maximum of six people from the same household, while people who live alone can meet with up to two non-household contacts who are part of their cohort. Last call will continue to be at 10 p.m. and licensed food-serving establishments must close at 11.
- Businesses that can remain open with restrictions include most retail businesses, with capacity limited to 25 per cent of fire code occupancy. That includes liquor and cannabis shops, grocery stores, pharmacies, clothing stores, computer and technology stores, hardware, automotive and approved farmers and seasonal markets. Also included are movie theatres, museums and galleries, libraries, casinos (though table games must close) and indoor entertainment centres.
- Masks in indoor workplaces: Masks are mandatory in all indoor workplaces in the Calgary and Edmonton areas, except when working alone in an office or a safely distanced cubicle or an appropriate barrier is in place. This does not change current student mask requirements in schools
- Fitness and recreation centres can operate with reduced capacity, but only for individual workouts, with no group fitness, group classes, group training, team practices or games.
- A full list of the new restrictions is available on the province’s website.
Kenney said despite repeated calls to do so from hundreds of doctors and unions representing health-care workers, he did not want to implement a lockdown, as he feels it would be “an unprecedented violation of fundamental constitutionally protected rights and freedoms.”
- WATCH | Alberta Premier Jason Kenney discuss the new restrictions
“We are not involved in a chase after zero,” he said — saying the measures are intended to give the health-care system capacity to respond.
He said the restrictions would be evaluated on Dec. 15, and that stricter measures could be imposed if conditions do not improve. Breaking restrictions could result in $1,000 fines.
“If we do not slow the sharp rise of both hospitalizations and ICU admissions, they will threaten our ability to continue delivering health services that we all rely on,” Kenney said.
Kenney said social gatherings are the largest source of transmission in the province and that the risk of transmission in restaurants is lower than at home. However, he did not share what percentage of transmissions are linked to social gatherings — according the Alberta Health, 85 per cent of cases have an unknown source of transmission.
Health-care workers are saying new restrictions introduced by Kenney on Tuesday don’t do enough to slow the spread of the virus.
Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which represents 27,000 health-care workers in the province, says the measures fall short of what’s needed.
Parker was among more than 400 doctors and health-care policy experts who had signed a letter to the premier on Sunday calling for a circuit-breaker lockdown, mask mandate, and mandatory paid sick leave.
Effective Wednesday, AHS has changed visitation rules for acute-care hospitals with outbreaks, and for communities that are under enhanced status. The changes are:
- For patients admitted to hospital and in ambulatory care, including emergency departments, only one designated family or support person will be permitted.
- For maternity and postpartum units, one designated family or support person will be permitted.
- For pediatrics and NICU, as well as critical care, up to two designated family or support persons are permitted.
- In end-of-life situations, one designated family or support person is permitted, and the presence of any other visitors must be pre-arranged with the site or unit.
There are more than 5,000 active cases in Calgary and more than 6,200 active cases in Edmonton.
The past week has set multiple records for Alberta, which only surpassed 1,000 daily new cases for the first time on Nov. 14. The province’s deadliest day was last Monday, when 20 more deaths were reported. It also surpassed 10,000 active cases for the first time — the number of active cases now sits at 13,349, and tests are showing an 8.3 per cent positivity rate.
Thousands of Albertans caught in a COVID-19 contact tracing backlog will no longer have their cases investigated.
The Alberta government had already scaled back contract tracing in the province on Nov. 6, due to the team being overwhelmed, asking positive cases to notify their own close contacts unless they were deemed to be linked to one of the high-priority settings such as hospitals, schools and continuing care homes.
On Monday, the government scaled it back further, saying that starting Tuesday, Alberta Health Services (AHS) was temporarily giving up on investigating contacts for people who received their positive test result more than 10 days ago. There are currently 11,500 people on the waitlist and that means about 3,000 people won’t get contact tracing calls as tracers prioritize the newest cases, which they say are the most infectious.
Meanwhile, 15 Alberta hospitals are now battling COVID-19 outbreaks. Since last Thursday outbreaks have been declared at health centres in Drumheller, Oyen and Devon, along with Chinook Regional hospital in Lethbridge.
In Calgary, outbreaks at three adult hospitals continue to grow. There are now 21 cases on four units at the Rockyview General. An outbreak has been declared on another unit at the Peter Lougheed hospital, bringing the total there to 18 cases on four units. There have been three deaths linked to that one. The latest Foothills hospital outbreaks are affecting two units. There are now 10 cases there and one person has died.
Meanwhile, Alberta Health Services recently has had to deal with several situations where designated family or support people of patients intentionally didn’t disclose their COVID-19 symptom status.
In one, two health-care workers from the labour and delivery unit at Rockyview General Hospital in Calgary were in isolation Monday after a visitor did not disclose their COVID-19 status during the on-site screening process.
“While the vast majority of Albertans understand that doing this puts loved ones and the teams caring for their loved ones at even greater risk of illness, the few who choose to do this are impacting us all,” Hinshaw said.
“Please be honest. We are dealing with a multiplier effect in Alberta. We cannot afford that in our health-care facilities.”
- WATCH | What is a circuit-breaker lockdown and does it work?
Calgary police say they’ve been asked 35 times since April to find and transport vulnerable citizens who have tested positive for COVID-19 but have nowhere to self-isolate. They’re taken to a hospital in order to get them off the street. Officers have located all but six of the 35.
The process is different for those who have the ability to isolate but choose not to. Those individuals can be fined under provincial health orders, and police have issued 38 tickets to those who failed to comply.
Polls show that Kenney’s handling of the pandemic in the province is getting low marks — and that could be sapping support for the federal Conservative Party.
Since March 2, the Conservatives have slipped only 1.2 percentage points in national support in the CBC’s Poll Tracker. However, the party is down 8.3 points in Alberta, which is significantly more than anywhere else in the country.
The annual Calgary firefighters’ toy event has been cancelled for the first time in 53 years due to new COVID-19 restrictions introduced this week.
“We had done our best to ensure we had a safe plan for all of our recipients, staff and vendors, but we must understand that this (the virus) is bigger than us,” said Mark Hagel, president of the Calgary Firefighters Toy Association, in a news release.
Last year, over 4,000 underprivileged children attended the Christmas party put on by the association.
The human toll of the pandemic is getting lost in the numbers, says a friend of Desmond Jarvis Brandon, an Edmonton man who died from a COVID-19 infection earlier this month.
Brandon developed a cough early this month. Less than two weeks later, on Nov. 13, Brandon succumbed to the disease at the University of Alberta Hospital.
“Desmond was a real person, he was 36 years old. He did not have to die,” said Carl Lovestrom, Brandon’s friend. “I hope this makes it more real for people.”
Brandon is among seven Albertans under the age of 40 to die of COVID-19 as the death toll in Alberta reached 500.
“Cuffing season” — a trend that’s emerged among singles to find a short-term partner to, in essence, hibernate with through the winter — may be even more intense this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cuffing season typically begins in October and lingers until mid-February, or when the weather begins to thaw — a stretch of time when people want to be tied down, or cuffed, to another person.
Priti Joshi, vice-president of marketing strategy and operations at dating app Bumble, said that this year, more than 50 per cent of users are motivated to cuff and get cuffed.
“Based off … Bumble’s internal research … we see that more than half of the singles on Bumble this year will prioritize finding a partner in time for the holidays,” Joshi said.
Here is the regional breakdown of active cases reported on Wednesday:
- Calgary zone: 5,028, up from 4,903 reported on Tuesday.
- Edmonton zone: 6,268, up from 6,128.
- North zone: 805, up from 764.
- South zone: 656, up from 649.
- Central zone: 876, up from 830.
- Unknown: 86, up from 75.
Find out which neighbourhoods or communities have the most cases, how hard people of different ages have been hit, the ages of people in hospital, how Alberta compares to other provinces and more in: Here are the latest COVID-19 statistics for Alberta — and what they mean
What you need to know today in Canada:
As of 7:30 a.m. ET on Thursday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 347,466, with 58,525 of those considered active cases. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 11,710.
British Columbia reported 13 additional deaths and 738 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday as hospitalizations in the province hit a new high. Health officials said 294 people were hospitalized, with 61 in critical care.
Health officials also noted that the record high case number reported earlier this week of 941 new cases was the result of a data collection error in the Fraser Health region. The correct number was actually far lower, at 695.
Saskatchewan made changes to its COVID-19 restrictions on Wednesday, including restricting capacity for places like casinos and movie theatres and changing rules for restaurants.
Premier Scott Moe, who spoke from self-isolation after a possible COVID-19 exposure, has previously said he’s not in favour of a complete lockdown.
Saskatchewan reported 164 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the number of active cases in the province to 3,012.
In Manitoba, a small hospital is temporarily closing so staff can be redeployed to help fight a COVID-19 outbreak at another facility. Staff from the Grandview Hospital will be sent to Grandview Personal Care Home “to assist in providing care and support for the residents and their families,” a statement from the local health authority said.
Health officials in Manitoba reported 349 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and said hospitalizations had reached a new high of 303, with 50 in intensive care.
Ontario‘s premier is urging people to limit indoor holiday celebrations to their own household, saying “traditions will have to be adjusted” this year as the province battles the ongoing pandemic.
Doug Ford’s comments came on the heels of a report from Ontario’s auditor general that sharply criticized the province’s COVID-19 response.
In Quebec, health officials on Wednesday reported 1,100 new COVID-19 cases and 28 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. Health authorities said the number of hospitalizations remained stable at 655 and 93 people were in intensive care, a drop of three.
In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported 16 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, New Brunswick reported three new cases, and both Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case.
Across the North, Nunavut reported 11 new cases, while Yukon reported one new case. There were no new cases reported in the Northwest Territories.
The immigration department is resuming citizenship tests that were put on hold more than eight months ago due to the global pandemic, with safeguards in place to ensure proper identification of those taking the tests online.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is launching a new virtual platform Thursday for the citizenship tests, which will be offered online to a small group at first – the roughly 5,000 people who had dates scheduled before the pandemic that were subsequently cancelled, and other priority cases.
Self-assessment and supports:
With winter cold and influenza season approaching, Alberta Health Services will prioritize Albertans for testing who have symptoms, and those groups which are at higher risk of getting or spreading the virus.
General asymptomatic testing is currently unavailable for people with no known exposure to COVID-19.
Those who test positive will be asked to use the online COVID-19 contact tracing tool, so that their close contacts can be notified by text message.
The province says Albertans who have returned to Canada from other countries must self-isolate. Unless your situation is critical and requires a call to 911, Albertans are advised to call Health Link at 811 before visiting a physician, hospital or other health-care facility.
If you have symptoms, even mild, you are to self-isolate for at least 10 days from the onset of symptoms, until the symptoms have disappeared.
You can find Alberta Health Services’ latest coronavirus updates here.
The province also operates a confidential mental health support line at 1-877-303-2642 and addiction help line at 1-866-332-2322, both available 24 hours a day.
Online resources are available for advice on handling stressful situations and ways to talk with children.
There is a 24-hour family violence information line at 310-1818 to get anonymous help in more than 170 languages, and Alberta’s One Line for Sexual Violence is available at 1-866-403-8000, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.