The latest: The province reported 396 additional cases of COVID-19 on Friday, compared with 582 new cases reported Thursday.  Since reaching a peak on Dec. 7 of 1,767 new cases per day, the seven-day average of daily new cases has been declining. As of Feb. 4, the seven-day average was 414.57, roughly the level it was at in late October when the numbers had just started rising sharply. Another nine people have died, bringing the total number of deaths in the province to 1,693. There were 6,407 active cases in the province Friday, inching down from 6,588 on Thursday. There were 475 people in hospital, including 89 in intensive care. That’s down from 517 people in hospital, including 93 in ICU, as of Thursday’s update. The provincewide R-value, which refers to the average number of people infected by each person with COVID-19, was 0.83.  The province has now confirmed 78 cases of people infected with variants of the coronavirus that were first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa. Hinshaw said Thursday two of the new variant cases potentially exposed two additional schools in the Calgary zone. That brings the total number of variant cases at Calgary zone schools to four, each at a different school. All of the cases are travel-related. Alberta has changed self-isolation rules for those infected with variants of COVID-19, and in some cases people may end up in quarantine for up to 24 days, Hinshaw said.  The variants seem to have an infection rate that’s 30 to 50 per cent higher than the strain that’s been in Alberta so far. England and Ireland have seen the variant spread rapidly throughout their populations and the U.K.’s daily mortality rate is the highest it’s been since the start of the pandemic. As of Friday, 114,066 Albertans had received their first doses of the vaccine. Of those, 23,268 had been fully immunized with a second booster dose. Hinshaw said Thursday she has heard that some seniors in Alberta are getting phone calls telling them they can book vaccination appointments if they’re willing to pay fees. “This is not a legitimate claim, this is a scam,” she said. Premier Jason Kenney took aim at conspiracy theorists in a live Facebook address Tuesday night, urging Albertans who have bought into misinformation about COVID-19 being a hoax or part of a global effort to impose some kind of socialist order upon the world to “wake up and smell the coffee” and look at the facts. The Alberta government will provide a one-time infusion of $68.5 million to continuing-care operators, home-care providers and facilities that provide addiction and mental health treatment, to help them defray additional costs incurred because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC) See the detailed regional breakdown:

Here is the detailed regional breakdown of active cases as of Friday.

Calgary zone: 2,598, down from 2,710 reported on Friday (45,344 recovered). Edmonton zone: 2,041, down from 2,117 (49,072 recovered). North zone: 809, down from 811 (9,506 recovered). South zone: 303, up from 288 (5,591 recovered).  Central zone: 642, down from 645 (8,348 recovered). Unknown: 14, down from 17 (107 recovered).

Find out which neighbourhoods or communities have the most cases, how hard people of different ages have been hit, the ages of people in hospital, how Alberta compares to other provinces and more in: Here are the latest COVID-19 statistics for Alberta — and what they mean

Here are the latest Alberta COVID-19 stories: More research needed on how vaccines affect variants

More research is needed to investigate the effectiveness of the vaccines on the virus variants, Hinshaw said.

The province has now confirmed a total of 68 cases of people infected with variants of the coronavirus that were first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

“We are actively reviewing the literature and experience around the globe to assess if additional measures are needed in school and other settings in the weeks ahead,” Hinshaw said Thursday.

Hinshaw said Thursday that she has heard that some seniors in Alberta are getting phone calls telling them they can book vaccination appointments if they’re willing to pay fees, and said it is a scam. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

“It’s important to remember that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are only a few months old, just like the variants. There is much we do not yet know, though researchers around the world are investigating,” she said.

“However, even against the variants, these vaccines still appear to be extremely effective at preventing severe cases, hospitalizations and deaths.”

Vaccine scam targets seniors

Hinshaw said she has heard that some seniors in Alberta are getting phone calls telling them they can book vaccination appointments if they’re willing to pay fees.

“This is not a legitimate claim, this is a scam,” she said. “Due to limited vaccine supply coming into the province, we are not yet able to offer the vaccine to all Albertans over the age of 75.

“When we do, the vaccine will be free of charge. Neither AHS nor any other community provider will ever be asking for payment for the vaccine. If you receive these calls, please hang up immediately and report to the non-emergency line of your local law enforcement.”

2 more Calgary zone schools report cases of variant

The number of cases of the coronavirus variant continues to grow in Alberta, including at Calgary zone schools, the province’s chief medical officer of health says.

Hinshaw said Thursday two of the new cases potentially exposed two additional schools in the Calgary zone.

That brings the total number of variant cases at Calgary zone schools to four, each at a different school. All of the cases are travel-related.

“As I mentioned in previous updates, these individuals did nothing wrong, and unfortunately the exposure was the result of an overlap in incubation and quarantine periods,” Hinshaw said.

Even as overall COVID-19 numbers continue to trend downward across Canada, health officials are increasingly concerned about the spread of two variants: one first detected in the U.K. and another in South Africa, which experts say could ‘rapidly’ change the situation in Canada. 2:05

A spokesperson with Alberta Health said the schools are not being identified at this time due to patient confidentiality. 

Scientists say the coronavirus variants are significantly more transmissible compared to the original strain. 

But when it comes to the schools identified earlier this week, Hinshaw said there has yet to be any spread detected within classes despite enhanced testing.

“However, with these two new schools, as before, it is important to know that anyone who may have been exposed was already quarantined after the initial COVID positive test,” she said. 

“We are now offering all close contacts the chance to get tested twice, as a precautionary measure.”

Alberta gym and fitness studio owners say they can’t survive ongoing restrictions

A coalition of Alberta gyms and fitness studios says government restrictions are hurting their businesses and argue the services they provide are part of the solution, rather than the problem. 

Under Alberta’s phased reopening plan, gyms and fitness studios can reopen on Monday, but under strict restrictions. Only one-on-one training is allowed and trainer-client pairs must stay three metres away from any other pairs.

The Alberta coalition of the Fitness Industry Council of Canada (FIC) says it represents almost 200 gyms and studios in the province.

It says more than 50 per cent of the facilities it has surveyed say they will not survive another two months of closure. The group argues gyms and fitness studios are safe and can help alleviate some of the mental and physical strains inflicted by the pandemic.

Scott Wildeman, the president of the FIC, said his organization is in direct talks with the government and appreciates the the difficult position it’s in.

He said it’s a positive step that the province has set benchmarks for when facilities could reopen. 

“But as it relates to fitness, we feel Stage One has missed the mark on a number of areas by simply limiting access to private training sessions,” said Wildeman.

Kenney takes on COVID-19 conspiracy theorists in Facebook ‘rant’

Premier Jason Kenney is urging Albertans who have bought into conspiracy theories about COVID-19 being a hoax or part of a global effort to impose some kind of socialist order upon the world to “wake up and smell the coffee” and look at the actual data.

The premier’s comments came during a Facebook Live question-and-answer session he hosted alongside Hinshaw on Tuesday night. He was responding to a viewer who asked: “Are you working with Trudeau and Klaus Schwab on ‘The Great Reset?'”

Hear more of what Kenney had to say about COVID-19 ‘denialism’ in the video below Speaking Tuesday night during a Facebook Live Q&A, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney fought back against misinformation linking COVID-19 to a socialist conspiracy and urged people who indulge in such conspiracy theories to ‘deal with reality.’ 5:45

Kenney at first laughed at the question, but then appeared to get increasingly frustrated as he delivered a nearly nine-minute answer in a self-described “rant” against the people who promote pandemic-related conspiracy theories on social media. 

“When you’re sitting in my chair, you don’t have the luxury of indulging in all of this denialism, of trying to blame some globalist conspiracy,” the premier said.

“I’m sorry to go on a rant … but when you’re implying that our [COVID-19] response is because some socialist in Switzerland told me that he wanted me to shut down businesses in Alberta, folks, give your heads a shake. And please, deal with reality.”

Kenney said COVID-19 is not an imaginary illness invented by Schwab, a German engineer and economist who founded the World Economic Forum, which hosts a high-profile gathering of world leaders, economists, celebrities and businesspeople each year in Davos, Switzerland. 

“The Great Reset” is an idea proposed by Schwab for a broad set of policy reforms in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic “to revamp all aspects of our societies and economies, from education to social contracts and working conditions.”

The idea has been “interpreted as sinister, first by fringe conspiracy theory groups on social media, and then by prominent conservative commentators — prompting tens of thousands of interactions across Facebook and Twitter,” according to a BBC reality check on numerous COVID-19-related conspiracy theories around the world.

NFL shares lessons learned in COVID-19 outbreaks

Super Bowl Sunday is right around the corner, but for a while it was in doubt, as COVID-19 outbreaks plagued the NFL during the regular season.

And that led the league to go to great lengths to ensure player safety, even having robots sanitize the locker rooms. Now the league is sharing what it learned from those outbreaks. And the lessons could apply more broadly to public health, too.

Medical columnist Dr. Raj Bhardwaj joined CBC Calgary’s Rob Brown on Tuesday to talk about that.

Super Bowl Sunday is right around the corner, but for a while it was in doubt, as COVID-19 outbreaks plagued the NFL during the regular season. And that led the league to go to great lengths to ensure player safety, even having robots sanitize the locker rooms. Now the league is sharing what it learned from those outbreaks. And the lessons could apply to public health, too. Medical columnist, Dr. Raj Bhardwaj, joined CBC Calgary’s Rob Brown to talk about that. 5:50



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