Thu. May 19th, 2022

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Provincial officials are urging Albertans to limit their Thanksgiving gatherings to reduce the spread of COVID-19 over the long weekend, while the fourth wave continues.

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Prime Minister Jason Kenney on Thursday reiterated his request to the Albertans to ensure that their holiday gatherings comply with current health orders, which set strict limits on indoor gatherings.

Under measures introduced on Sept. 20, indoor gatherings in Alberta are limited to a maximum of 10 people vaccinated against COVID-19 from a maximum of two households, with children under the age of 12 not included in the total amount. Indoor gatherings are prohibited among the unvaccinated.

Kenney said positive trends in the number of provincial COVID-19 cases that have the plateau over the past week should not be read as a green light to reject pandemic measures.

“These gains are very tentative. “They could all be lost overnight over the weekend if the Albertans do not carefully follow the public health guidelines we have put in place to protect our health system, which is still under severe stress,” Kenney said.

“We all have to do our part to limit transmission in the critical days ahead.”

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Alberta intensive care units remain under significant load and operate at 168 percent of their normal capacity as of Friday morning. There are 290 patients in Alberta’s 374 ICU beds, including 201 beds with overvoltage capacity. Of these patients, 250 have COVID-19. The number of patients on ICUs remains high, but has fallen six percent over the past week.

The rules for private gatherings are in sharp contrast to the rules at companies.

Restaurants, pubs, bars and nightclubs participating in Alberta’s vaccination pass program, checking patrons for evidence of immunization or a recent negative COVID-19 test, may operate without restrictions other than masking.

Other venues such as casinos, cinemas and arenas fall under the same rules, meaning that fully vaccinated Albanians from more than two households can gather at any of these venues under the letter of the law, but not in their own homes. This includes the final season of the Calgary Flames, which was attended by more than 19,000 people Friday night.

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Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief physician for health, said settings using the vaccine passport system can more easily confirm compliance with vaccine mandates than private homes.

“It’s not about telling that Albertans gathering at a restaurant is safer than gathering at home if all these measures are followed,” she said. “It’s about saying that the ability to enforce and monitor and have structured oversight is greater in these settings.”

Hinshaw also encouraged Albertans to hold outdoor gatherings limited to a maximum of 20 people.

Local police agencies have the ability to enforce COVID-19 rules, Kenney said, adding that the government does not “micromanage” these operations.

“Obviously, we do not want a police officer on every street corner to check people’s papers, check if they are going to their own home or visiting someone else,” he said.

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Dr. Stephanie Smith, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alberta, said public health guidance on limiting Thanksgiving collections to vaccinated people from two households makes sense, given the continued high viral spread in the community.

She said it would be wise for Albertans to follow these guidelines at restaurants as well, and said they should assess their personal risk before heading to a place like an NHL arena.

“I think we have to be very careful,” Smith said. “I think it’s important for us to keep our gatherings small this Thanksgiving.”

After increasing the spread of COVID-19 last Thanksgiving, Hinshaw cited the holiday as a spark that helped drive the second wave of the pandemic in Alberta. The top doctor expressed concern Thursday that Thanksgiving could once again provide fuel for the pandemic.

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This year’s holiday is less likely to cause a shift in the fourth wave, Smith said, with vaccination rates rising in Alberta and providing more protection at the population level.

“Will we see a small blip in the form of community transfer? Maybe, ”she said. “But I think with our wave in November, it was the worst possible timing. It was just starting to pick up speed, and then we had Thanksgiving gatherings that kind of nurtured the transmission. ”

Alberta reported 1,256 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. That’s a 23 percent drop from previous Friday’s reported infections and continues a recent trend where the number of cases is starting to decline.

The new cases come from 14,736 tests and represent an 8.5 percent positivity rate. Active cases dropped to 17,839, the fewest since Sept. 11, nearly a month ago. There are 1,101 Albanians in the hospital with COVID-19.

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Sixteen more deaths due to the virus were also reported, bringing Alberta’s toll during the pandemic to 2,830.

Albertans continue to be immunized against COVID-19. Among Albanians aged 12 and over – the group eligible for the jab – 84.9 per cent have a shot and 75.5 per cent have both required doses. In the general population, 72.2 percent of people have a shot, and 64.2 percent have both.

Friday’s provincial data shows vaccines are safe and effective in preventing infection and serious illness from COVID-19, with unvaccinated Albertans testing positive for the virus at a rate nearly six times that of their fully vaccinated peers. Only seven percent of Alberta’s COVID-19 patients at the ICU since early June were fully vaccinated.

jherring@postmedia.com

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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