Alberta reported a record 202 new cases of COVID-19 linked to highly contagious variants of the coronavirus on Wednesday, and the province's top public health doctor warned that additional restrictions may be necessary to slow the spread.
The province had 1,269 active cases linked to variants on Wednesday, accounting for 19.4 per cent of the total.
The spread of variants and increasing overall case numbers were among the reasons the government cited Monday when it announced the province will not proceed with Step 3 of its reopening plan.
"What we know is that in other places where variant strains have become dominant … additional restrictions have been required," Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said at a Wednesday news conference.
In many countries in Europe, including the U.K. earlier this year, cases linked to variant strains rose very quickly, Hinshaw said, and in some cases additional restrictions were needed to prevent further spread and to ease the impact on hospitals and ICUs.
"What we need to do in Alberta is up to all of us, and the next few weeks really are going to be a measure of how we are all collectively making choices, prioritizing our community, preventing that spread within the current public health measures," she said.
"If spread escalates, if we're seeing the spread and the transmission of our cases, and particularly variant cases, continuing to rise, it may be possible — it may be necessary — to bring in additional restrictions."
The province reported 692 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and two more deaths. There are 285 people in hospital with the disease, 53 of them in intensive care.
No single sector driving spread
"With Step 3 delayed and cases rising, I know many Albertans are wondering where this increased spread is coming from," Hinshaw said.
"Unfortunately there is no one single sector or activity that is driving the recent increase. We have seen indoor social gatherings, outbreaks, and people working while symptomatic all play a role, along with many other factors."
She said it would be easier if there was just one activity driving all the spread, but said instead that the growth is a result of "little moments in many different settings when we come in close contact with other people and give the virus opportunities to transmit."
Hinshaw said variants make that even more difficult and again urged Albertans to be "extra-vigilant" in following the health measures, asking those who feel sick to stay home and get tested.
"In many ways, [public health measures] matter more than ever because we are getting so close to the end of this pandemic, thanks to vaccines."
Active cases grow by 1,400 in 8 days
Active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta have increased by more than 1,400 over the past eight days.
After peaking at more than 20,000 cases in mid-December, that number declined steadily for more than two months.
On Feb. 10, the total dropped below 5,000 active cases and stayed under that level for five weeks.
Then on March 16, the province reported 5,091 cases and the trend changed. Since then, active cases reported each day were:
- March 17, 5,258 active cases.
- March 18, 5,589 active cases.
- March 19, 5,776 active cases.
- March 20, 6,127 active cases.
- March 21, 6,335 active cases.
- March 22, 6,231 active cases.
- March 23, 6,534 active cases.
Alberta has now administered more than 512,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, Hinshaw said, and another 418,000 people have signed up to be immunized.
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