Many Alberta doctors are warning that COVID-19 has reached a critical point in Alberta, as hospitals grapple with increased ICU admissions and deaths.
The province reported Thursday that 679 people were being treated in hospital with COVID, up from 647 on Wednesday.
There were also nine new deaths reported in the past 24 hours, which is a decrease from Wednesday's report of 18 deaths — the highest number in one day since the second wave in January.
The majority of those 18 deaths had pre-existing conditions and they ranged in age from their 30s to 90s, according to data from Alberta Health.
It is unknown at this time whether they were vaccinated, however the province said on Thursday 84 per cent of all those who died from COVID-19 in the past four months had not been fully immunized.
Dr. Stephanie Smith, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta, says the next two to three weeks are going to be extremely tough on hospitals.
"The modelling would suggest that we're going to be peaking in terms of our numbers in the first week of October," she said.
"So I think we're certainly bracing in the hospital to see more hospitalizations and more deaths potentially over the next three to four weeks."
Pandemic of the unvaccinated
At a press conference Thursday, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said vaccines were critical to preventing death.
"I know there has been concern lately, noting that some of our deaths have been in people who are fully immunized. And I want to be clear that vaccines are still making a profound difference," she said.
"For those 60 and over, Albertans who don't have the protection of two doses of a vaccine have a 14-times greater risk of dying from COVID than those who are fully immunized."
At the University of Alberta Hospital, the vast majority of patients coming in sick with COVID have the delta variant, says Smith. Data from the hospital also shows that 98 per cent of the patients admitted are unvaccinated.
"We are seeing some people that are older that are dying, and again, these do tend to be unvaccinated people," she said.
And when looking at stats from previous waves, the expert says that during the third, for example, there wasn't as many deaths from the disease.
"We're starting to see more deaths similar to our first wave," she said.
"These are people that are vulnerable people for more severe disease, for the most part. But we are seeing some younger people getting really sick."
Health Minister Tyler Shandro was asked at the press conference Thursday why the government won't follow the lead of other provinces and bring in a mandated vaccine passport.
So far, Quebec, British Columbia, Ontario and Manitoba are implementing rules that would allow only vaccinated people to access restaurants, bars and sports events.
Shandro said Alberta will soon have a QR code, as well as printable cards, so Albertans can share their vaccine status for businesses that require it.
'We are continuing to look at that evidence from other jurisdictions and what our opportunities might be here in Alberta. But we have seen businesses take that first step, that leadership role in implementing requirements for their own businesses, for their own events, for their own workplaces," he said.
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"Our commitment is to Albertans to continue to make sure that they have the power of showing their immunization status in the palm of their hand or in the wallet and printable card. And we're going to continue to do that."
Smith says a vaccine passport would help get more shots in arms.
"Restrictions in terms of non-essential businesses do seem to incentivize people to get vaccinated. So I think that it is something that the province should definitely be considering," she said.
Along with that, the expert thinks more restrictions need to be implemented on large gatherings.
"Even if we had a million people — or however many people that are leftover that haven't gotten vaccine — to get it right now, it still takes time for them to build up that immunity. So that's not going to have an effect right away."
"I think that if we're serious about really wanting to try to bend the curve quickly, then we would need some kind of lockdown measures.'
With files from Jennifer Lee.
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