Hinshaw warns rising COVID-19 hospitalizations could lead to more restrictions ‘soon’

Dr. Deena Hinshaw says Alberta will require stricter health measures if the province’s COVID-19 hospitalization numbers continue to rise. Bindu Suri has details.

Alberta’s COVID-19 hospitalization numbers continue to rise and Dr. Deena Hinshaw says she and her team are watching closely.

“If we don’t see growth slowing soon, further measures may be required,” the chief medical officer of health said on Tuesday.

During her COVID-19 update, Hinshaw said there were 402 Albertans currently in hospital due to COVID-19. Of those, 88 people are receiving treatment in the ICU.

“Hospitalizations are increasing province-wide and cases continue to rise sharply.”

According to Hinshaw, when officials see the daily case count rising, they know there will be a rise in hospitalizations as well. She pointed to early December when Alberta saw the peak of COVID-19 cases. Once that peak happened, the peak of hospitalizations happened about three weeks later.

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Hinshaw was asked to clarify when further restrictions could be announced. She said officials are monitoring data and planning constantly and there isn’t a way to say when further restrictions could come into place.

“We need to make sure we don’t wait too long,” she said. “We cannot wait three weeks and watch, we need to make sure we’re watching within the coming week to 10 days about what those cases look like and consider, if our trajectory continues on a steep upward climb, whether those additional measure would be needed.”

Decisions on what further restrictions would look like will be determined by numbers, what officials are seeing and where high rates of transmission are being reported, but Hinshaw said there are ways to prevent those from coming in.

“I want to really reinforce, what is critical right now is for every single one of us to limit our in-person interactions every single day.

When we’re in-person interacting with someone outside our household, stay distanced, wear a mask when we’re indoors and those are the kinds of things we can do right now and we don’t have to wait for any additional measures.”

Another defence against those numbers continuing to rise, and therefore leading to more restrictions, is vaccinations, Hinshaw said.

“Vaccines are our best defence and once we have been able to offer them to all in the province, the current wall of protection created by public health measures can be replaced with this wall of protection that the vaccines give us.”

Alberta currently offers three COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna and CovidShield AstraZeneca. All three are safe, Hinshaw said, and all three show high protection from severe outcomes due to COVID-19 after just one dose.

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Research shows the first dose of Pfizer and Moderna offers about 80 per cent protection a few weeks after the first dose. The AstraZeneca vaccine offers about 60 to 70 per cent protection.

“The second dose for… these vaccines increases protection even more and is necessary to complete your series,” Hinshaw said.

As of Tuesday, more than 970,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in Alberta. Hinshaw said more appointments are being added as the province receives more vaccine.

“Thank you for your patience and I can assure you your wait to provide protection for yourself and those around you is almost over.”

The plea to book vaccines comes as variant cases make up about 52 per cent of Alberta’s active COVID-19 cases, Hinshaw said.

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Over the last 24 hours, Alberta Health identified 705 additional cases of variants of concern.

The province also reported 1,081 new COVID-19 cases from about 12,000 tests. The province’s positivity rate sits at 8.9 per cent Tuesday.

Three additional deaths were confirmed to Alberta Health over the past 24 hours, Hinshaw said.

A man in his 60s with known comorbidities from the Edmonton zone has died.

The other two deaths were reported in the Calgary zone: a man in his 70s and a woman in her 80s. Both of those cases included comorbidities as well.

Alberta’s COVID-19 death toll now stands at 2,021.

“My condolences go to the family, friends and loved ones of these individuals who are mourning their lose and to anyone who is grieving a loss at this time.”

There are active alerts or outbreaks in 453 schools, which is 19 per cent of all Alberta schools. Since Jan. 11, 2,653 cases have been linked to schools.

Hinshaw urged students and staff to follow all COVID-19 guidelines in place at schools not only during class time, but before and after school as well.

“While there are no risk-free options with COVID-19. The rise we have seen is not attributed to any single cause and, in fact, is often linked to social gathering outside school rather than transmission within classrooms.”

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Hinshaw said there has been a “sharp increase” in COVID-19 cases in school-aged children in Alberta, but didn’t provide any specific numbers.

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