COVID-19: Hinshaw says decision on Step 2 of reopening in Alberta won't be until March 1 or later

WATCH ABOVE: Dr. Deena Hinshaw provided an update on Alberta's response to COVID-19 on Monday afternoon.

Whether or not to move into Step 2 of Alberta’s pandemic reopening plan is a decision that will not be made until March 1 at the earliest, the province’s chief medical officer of health said Monday.

At a news conference in Edmonton, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said that despite positive progress on a number of fronts over the past few weeks, there have simultaneously been some concerning developments in the province’s fight against COVID-19 and that she and other officials will need to take their time evaluating how quickly the province can allow the further reopening of both civil society and the economy.

“We are being very cautious,” she told reporters, adding that Albertans remaining vigilant about adhering to public health measures and guidelines will help reduce pandemic-related figures that give her cause for concern.

“We are below the Step 2 thresholds of hospitalizations, but we have seen growing case numbers.”

READ MORE: Alberta adds 328 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, 9 more deaths 

Hinshaw said that businesses have asked the province for a week’s notice whenever a decision is made on further reopening, in order to allow them time to prepare. While she said no decision would be coming this month, “businesses should be planning for a reopening as early as the following week.”

Hinshaw took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to clarify her Monday statements. She said moving to Step 2 will be considered on March 1 and, “if a decision is made at that time, it is possible that restrictions could be eased that same day.”

Hinshaw said the commitment to give businesses one week’s notice before easing restrictions “was made in order to give restaurants, which require lead time to prepare, a chance to reopen on an even footing. The same notice may not be required for businesses in Steps 2, 3 or 4.”

Hinshaw spoke about the R value — a figure that represents a virus’ rate of spread in a community — in Alberta, and how outside of Calgary and Edmonton, that number is 1.13. For the whole province, Hinshaw said the R value was at 1.03 for the past week. She noted that any figure above 1.0 indicates cases are rising in a particular area.

“We will be taking the full three weeks to assess the data and assess the best way forward,” she said. “It is too early to say if this recent increase is significant or but a temporary pause in the strong downward trend we have seen in the past several months.

“This extra time will allow us to evaluate our current situation.”

Hinshaw noted that the so-called second wave of COVID-19 that hit Alberta in late fall came on rapidly and that it is important to take concerning indicators when it comes to pandemic metrics seriously. She said the province’s positivity rate — which was at 4.5 per cent as of Monday afternoon — and R-value have started to go up in a “concerning way.”

However, Hinshaw also said because of the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines and that the vast majority of Albertans are doing their part to wear masks, limit close contacts, practise social distancing and maintain personal hygiene, there has been significant progress on reducing hospitalizations, case numbers and outbreaks from several weeks ago, particularly when it comes to the province’s hard-hit long-term care homes.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health praised the efforts of people in the province to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and said they are helping to generate “reasons for hope.”

“Every one of us should take pride in this turnaround,” she said.

Latest COVID-19 numbers in Alberta

As of Monday afternoon, Hinshaw said about 173,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in the province, and added that over 69,000 Albertans have now been fully immunized.

She said out of about 6,100 coronavirus tests that were completed over the past 24 hours in the province, 273 new cases were identified. She added that 11 new cases involving COVID-19 variants were identified in the same time frame.

As of Monday afternoon, Hinshaw said 324 people were in Alberta hospital with COVID19 and 53 people were being treated in intensive care units.

On Monday afternoon, Alberta Health reported that 16 more deaths in the province have been linked to COVID-19. The government department said all of the fatalities included comorbidities.

Hinshaw said it was important to note the people who died were “fellow Albertans” and that they should not be thought of as just more numbers.

Nine of the fatalities occurred in the Edmonton zone: a man in his 70s linked to an outbreak at St. Thomas Health Centre, a man in his 90s linked to an outbreak at the Misericordia Community Hospital, a man in his 90s linked to an outbreak at Jasper Place Continuing Care Centre, a man in his 100s linked to an outbreak at the Lewis Estates Retirement Residence, a man in his 70s, two men and a woman in their 80s and a woman in her 90s.

Three of the deaths were reported in the Calgary zone: a man in his 60s and two women in their 70s.

In the North zone, a woman in her 80s and a woman in her 90s died. Alberta Health said the death of the woman in her 80s was linked to an outbreak at Bonnyville Extendicare. The death of the woman in her 90s was linked to an outbreak at the Jasper Alpine Summit Seniors Lodge.

In the Central zone, a man in his 90s died.

In the South zone, a woman in her 60s, who was linked to an outbreak at The Valleyview, also died.

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