The Alberta government will send COVID-19 teams into the 11 hardest-hit neighbourhoods in Edmonton and Calgary to offer masks, hand sanitizer and more information, Premier Jason Kenney says.
The program will also provide free hotel rooms to allow people in those areas to self-isolate if necessary, Kenney said at a news conference on Tuesday.
The outreach teams will work in two areas in northeast Calgary, and nine in Edmonton — Northeast Edmonton, Northgate, Castle Downs, Woodcroft West, Jasper Place, Woodcroft East, Eastwood, Abbotsfield and Mill Woods West.
Kenney said public health data shows that some areas of the province continue to experience very high rates of transmission.
“Albertans in these particular communities are at high risk of COVID-19 due to absolutely no fault of the residents there,” the premier said. “The residents of these communities often have public facing jobs which may make them more susceptible to community transmission.”
The COVID-19 care teams will provide materials and clarification about public health orders in the languages people speak in those areas, Kenney said. They will hand out care packages with masks, hand sanitizer and relevant information, including assistance in accessing social supports.
The province will also set aside self-isolation hotels, six in Calgary with 791 spaces and nine in Edmonton with 1,300 spaces, where people who are sick can stay for free so they don’t spread the virus to family members.
One hotel will be set aside in Peace River, and the province is working to procure more hotel spaces in Fort McMurray and Red Deer.
“These heaviest-hit neighbourhoods tend to be lower incomes areas where people naturally live in higher density housing arrangements,” Kenney said, “sometimes with multigenerational families that can make it very difficult to self-isolate effectively if needed.
“Many of these families also have English language barriers, which in some cases may make it more difficult for them to obtain current and accurate health information and the social supports that are available to them.”
As part of the community campaign, people will be eligible for a temporary emergency payments of $625 once they have completed their self-isolation at one of the designated hotels, Kenney said.
“This is the same payment that we make to Albertans who have had to evacuate from natural emergencies like fires and floods. So my view is that vulnerable people affected by the public health emergency who do the right thing by self-isolating need similar support to be safe.”
The province reported 1,341 new cases on Tuesday, and a total of 20,649 active cases, which was down 474 from the day before.
Across Alberta, 742 patients were being treated in hospitals for the illness, including 137 in ICU beds.
Eleven deaths were reported, bringing the total COVID-19 deaths to 744.
The regional breakdown of active cases was:
Edmonton zone: 9,946 Calgary zone: 7,331 Central zone: 1,496 North zone: 1,250 South zone: 553 Unknown: 73
The premier released a video late Monday that showed him standing next to a cargo jet at Calgary International Airport, where UPS had just unloaded Alberta’s first 3,900 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The first vaccines were administered Tuesday to a respiratory therapist at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton and an intensive care nurse at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be administered at its delivery site and is being offered to respiratory therapists, intensive care physicians and staff, and eligible long-term care and designated supportive living workers, the province said in a new release.
As more shipments arrive in early January, immunization will focus on Phase 1 priority populations that will include residents of long-term care and designated supportive-living facilities, followed by seniors aged 75 and over, and First Nations people on reserve, Inuit and on-settlement Métis people aged 65 and over.
No queue jumping, premier vows
Asked about the possibility of queue-jumping, Kenney said AHS has developed objective criteria for prioritizing who gets the vaccine.
“We must build an absolute wall around the vaccination program to ensure there is no political pressure of any kind on who gets vaccinated when,” he said. “I don’t want MLAs, from I don’t care what party, saying that the nursing home in their constituency, a constituent’s mom, needs to go first.”
The vaccination program has to be run impartially and objectively, based on decisions made by experts, the premier said.
“No minister, no MLA, nobody involved in the political side of government should be picking up any phone to say that so-and-so should be jumping this queue.”
The 11 most recent deaths reported were:
A man in his 50s in the South zone. A woman in her 60s linked to the outbreak at Hardisty Care Centre in Edmonton. A woman in her 70s linked to the outbreak at Capital Care Strathcona in Edmonton. A man in his 70s linked to the outbreak at Shepherds Care Vanguard in Edmonton. A woman in her 70s linked to the outbreak at Chartwell St. Albert Retirement Residences in the Edmonton zone. A woman in her 70s, another in her 80s and a third in her 90s linked to the outbreak at Salem Manor in the Edmonton zone. A man in his 80s in the Edmonton zone. A woman in her 80s linked to the outbreak at Chinese Seniors Lodge in Edmonton. A woman in her 80s in the Edmonton zone.