By Stan Ashbee
Due to increasing COVID-19 transmission and rising hospital admissions, overwhelmingly amongst unvaccinated Albertans, temporary measures are needed to reduce transmission and prevent the health-care system from being overwhelmed. Currently, more than 80 per cent of COVID-19 cases in hospital are unvaccinated, including 91 per cent of patients in intensive care.
“Vaccines are safe, effective and a game-changer. This is why the current wave is different than what we’ve experienced before. While we do not need to return to the same widespread and dramatic measures we had in place earlier in the pandemic, unvaccinated Albertans in particular are still at-risk and are placing a heavy load on our health care system. This is why we are taking measured steps and introducing a new incentive program to encourage more Albertans to get the jab,” stated Tyler Shandro, minister of health.
“As I have always done, I use the best currently available evidence from Alberta and around the world to inform my recommendations to protect the health of Albertans. With hospitalization rates rising, it is important we take additional steps to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. My ultimate goal continues to be to shift from pandemic to endemic and put more focus on the complete health of Albertans — we must learn to live with COVID. Getting vaccinated today is the best possible way for us to get there,” stated Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health.
A one-time incentive of $100 is now available for all Albertans age 18 or older who receive a first or second dose of vaccine between Sept. 3 and Oct. 14. This incentive is intended to encourage unvaccinated Albertans to get protected, as soon as possible. After vaccination, eligible Albertans will be able to register online. Alberta Health will validate registrations against provincial immunization data. This website will be available starting Sept. 13. If Albertans do not have access to a computer, they can contact 310-0000 for assistance, starting Sept. 13.
•The province will make masks mandatory for all indoor public spaces and workplaces, as of Sept. 4. Schools are not required to implement masking but school boards will continue to set COVID-19 management policies, as they deem appropriate.
•As of Sept. 4, restaurants, cafés, bars, pubs, nightclubs and other licensed establishments will be required to end alcohol service at 10 p.m.
•Albertans are encouraged to limit in-person contacts. The province strongly recommends unvaccinated Albertans limit their indoor social gatherings to close contacts of only two cohort families up to a maximum of 10 people.
•It is recommended employers pause plans to have staff return to work and instead continue with work-from-home measures. If employees are working on location, employees must mask for all indoor settings, except in work stations or where two-metre physical distancing or adequate physical barriers are in place.
All Albertans who have received two doses of vaccine and are aged 18 and over are eligible for the remaining $1 million draw for the “Open for Summer Lottery.” To register and for complete details, visit alberta.ca/lottery. The final draw closes Sept. 23. Fully protected Albertans are also eligible to enter the “Outdoor Adventure” vaccine lottery. To register and for complete details, visit alberta.ca/outdoor-adventure-vaccine-lottery.aspx. The lottery closes Sept. 9. All Albertans can book appointments via AHS online or by calling 8-1-1, or through participating pharmacies. Walk-in appointments for first doses are also available. For schedule and locations, visit ahs.ca/vaccine. Based on information available in mid-August, an updated projection of estimated COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations to the end of September was developed. Current actual data is trending toward the high-end of the projections, therefore numbers may exceed the projections. Peaks in the model are only estimates, and actual peaks may be higher and later than anticipated if current growth trends continue.
This provincial modelling shows intensive care unit patients could possibly peak at around 180 in the medium scenario, although if accelerating trends continue, numbers could reach or exceed the currently projected high scenario at 290.
Other hospitalizations (non-ICU) are currently trending toward the high scenario, with a potential peak of 700 in the next several weeks. If the high scenario peaks are reached, this would mean a greater combined impact on the acute care system than in all previous waves, and if changes in transmission cause greater spread, these numbers could be exceeded. Modelling is for the entire province. Some regions will experience different case and hospitalization statistics per capita; this will particularly be expected in those areas with lower rates of vaccinations. Modelling is a dynamic process where there are constant comparisons against observations versus projections.
When these comparisons deviate, the model assumptions are re-evaluated, which may change with new information such as outbreak events. This modelling is now available online.