As COVID-19 cases increase to record levels, is Alberta experiencing its second wave?
By Noel Harper, News Editor
Alberta is experiencing a concerning resurgence in COVID-19 cases, as the fall brings the province back to an era of the pandemic that hasn’t been seen since its earlier days in the spring.
Notably, the entire city of Calgary was placed under “watch” status — meaning there are more than 50 cases per 100,000 residents of a region — for the first time on Oct. 16. On that date, there were 686 active cases of COVID-19 in the city, resulting in a rate of 50.9 infected persons per 100,000.
“We have seen several outbreaks in that city linked to social gatherings, and this is yet another reminder that no region is immune from this virus, and that one case can quickly lead to many if restrictions are not followed,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health during an Oct. 16 update.
Calgary joins Alberta’s other major jurisdiction in reaching a city-wide COVID-19 watch as Edmonton recorded a rate of 55.9 cases per 100,000 in August. The Edmonton zone continues to hold the majority of active COVID-19 cases throughout the province.
As of Oct. 20, per the province’s COVID-19 information webpage, the Calgary zone has 19 ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19, all but three of them within the city of Calgary, with many linked to workplace settings.
Of the 72 outbreak locations that are listed throughout the province as of this writing, 16 have experienced two or more outbreaks since the pandemic began. This includes the Calgary Remand Centre, the Calgary Drop-in and Rehab Centre and the Amazon fulfillment centre located in nearby Balzac — each of which were first added to the list earlier in the year.
A total of 22 schools within Calgary are currently on Alberta’s school outbreaks list, including six schools that have been granted “watch” status, indicating five or more COVID-19 cases linked to the facility.
On Tuesday, Alberta’s daily COVID-19 case numbers rose above 300 for the seventh time throughout the pandemic — six of these seven instances were recorded in the month of October, including a record-setting 372 new cases on Oct. 18.
Despite this resurgence, the provincial government has yet to officially declare a second wave of COVID-19 in Alberta. Speaking at the end of September — when daily cases averaged 150 — Hinshaw disagreed with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who claimed that the virus’ second wave had arrived in Canada.
“I think that, certainly, there are some provinces who have themselves determined that they are beginning what they’re calling a second wave, but in Alberta, I don’t think that’s where we’re at right now,” said Hinshaw.
“When I think about a second wave, I think about a very large spike of uncontrolled spread, and that’s not our only possible future.”
Alberta’s COVID-19 modelling report in April predicted a significant decrease in hospitalizations by the end of September, with little to no new cases at this time. However, well into October, COVID-19 hospitalizations are as high as they have ever been in Alberta, with 116 people in hospital as of Tuesday — 61 of them in intensive care.
In June, as a decrease in cases did occur, staying below 50 per day throughout the month, Premier Jason Kenney was quick to declare the province’s response to COVID-19 had “successfully flattened the curve, which was always the main goal of our COVID response.”
Just under two months later, at the end of July, daily counts started to pass 100, with Dr. Hinshaw stating that “the curve is no longer flat in Alberta.” Now, six months into the pandemic, the province is adding thousands of new COVID-19 cases a week, and active cases inch towards 3,000 at one given time.
In addition to the “watch” designation given to the city of Calgary as a whole, seven regions in the city are under COVID-19 watch, including Calgary-Centre, Calgary-Elbow and much of the north. The city of Edmonton and each of its regions are currently under an “enhanced” classification, as each area is exceeding 50 infections per 100,000 people.
This resulted in new voluntary health measures being instituted in the Edmonton zone — masks should be worn in all indoor work settings, no more than 15 people should gather in social settings at once, and people should be a part of no more than three separate cohorts.
Of all Albertans, 293 have died from COVID-19.