COVID-19: Doctor urges caution as Alberta breaks variant case record again

Premier Jason Kenney is expected to meet with cabinet Monday to discuss moving forward with Step 3 of the COVID-19 re-opening plan.

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Premier Jason Kenney is expected to meet with cabinet Monday to discuss moving forward with Step 3 of the COVID-19 re-opening plan.

But variant cases broke yet another record Sunday and with hospitalization rates edging up, the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association is warning politicians to proceed cautiously.

“If this were a horror movie you’d be hearing music in the background,” said Dr. James Talbot, co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association Strategic COVID Committee. “It’s been a mixed bag for the reopening they’ve done thus far and let’s be clear each (relaxation of the rules) represents a gamble.”

On Sunday, Alberta Health announced 555 new cases of COVID-19, including 184 caused by variants of concern. That means 15 per cent of the 5,971 active cases in the province are caused by the faster-spreading mutations.

The number of variant cases had been increasing all last week, with the last record-breaking day Friday with 130 new cases.

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Health officials have said Monday is the earliest day they would address moving to Stage 3. This stage has the potential to ease restrictions for adult team sports, casinos, bingo halls, youth sports, movies theatres, and places of worship as well as indoor social gatherings and more.

Talbot said opening something outdoors like a zoo is a pretty low risk. Likewise, a museum lets people space themselves out and has great ventilation.

But when it comes to casinos, bingo halls, movie theatres and places of worship, Talbot said “we already know those can be associated with super spreader events.”

“Phase one included opening bars and restaurants,” Talbot said, and regulations are already being broken there. “Anytime you’re indoors it’s an issue.”

Health officials previous said Alberta could move to Step 3 re-opening if the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 was below 300 and declining. Hospitalizations have been below that target for the last three weeks but are now edging up.

Hospitalizations were at 282 Sunday, up from 264 on Thursday. There were 47 people in intensive care and on Sunday, two more deaths were reported.

The most common variant in Alberta is the B.1.1.7, which originated in the United Kingdom. Alberta’s current slate of vaccines is effective against it.

“We know that the variant spreads faster and we know that it causes more serious illness,” Talbot said. “The last thing we want to do is go into a full-fledged third wave (especially since) we still don’t have all the high-risk people immunized.”

For more on Alberta’s vaccine rollout, read our guide driven by reader questions.

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