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Alberta waiting to make call on further loosening COVID-19 health rules


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EDMONTON — Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says the next round of reduced economic restrictions likely won’t happen for two more weeks.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw says COVID-19 case numbers have hit a plateau and officials need to make sure they aren’t heading in the wrong direction.

She says they will wait until at least March 1 to get a better handle on the trend before making a decision on further reopenings.

Hinshaw also says they have promised businesses a week’s notice to prepare, putting the earliest date for lifting more rules at March 8.

Alberta is reopening its economy in stages, as long as case numbers are moving in the right direction.

Hinshaw announced 273 new infections, 324 people in hospital with COVID-19 and 16 more deaths, bringing that total to 1,843.

“Our cases are starting to plateau instead of continuing to drop,” Hinshaw told a news conference Monday.

“We are seeing steady numbers of new variant cases. Our vaccination campaign needs several more months to reach the majority of our population.

“We must be extra cautious. If given the chance, this virus will spread widely and we risk losing the gains that we have made together.”

She noted there are positive signs: 179,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, and 69,000 people have received the full two-dose requirement.

Last week, the government announced all residents in long-term care and designated supportive living facilities – those at the highest risk from COVID-19 — have been vaccinated.

Alberta has completed the first of its four-stage reopening plan for businesses and public gatherings, tied mainly to hospitalization rates.

Premier Jason Kenney said last week the second stage of easing restrictions may start as early as March 1, but only if case numbers and trends merit it.

As of Monday, Alberta had 4,675 active COVID-19 cases and there were 53 people in intensive care.

Those numbers are a small fraction of the soaring caseloads that threatened to overwhelm the health system in December, prompting Kenney to impose a second round of economic restrictions.

Alberta has banned indoor gatherings, with outdoor get-togethers limited to 10 people.

Restaurants are open with health restrictions in place, while retailers can stay open at sharply reduced customer capacity. Entertainment venues, such as bingo halls, movie theatres and casinos remain shuttered. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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Alberta’s Walker into Hearts semifinal with 9-8 win over Manitoba’s Jones

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CALGARY — Alberta’s Laura Walker advanced to the semifinal of the Canadian women’s curling championship with a 9-8 win over Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones in Sunday’s tiebreaker game.

Walker faces defending champion Kerri Einarson in an afternoon semifinal with the winner taking on Ontario’s Rachel Homan for the championship at night.

Jones missed an attempted double takeout in the 10th end, which left Walker an open draw to score three for the win in the tiebreaker.

Manitoba and Alberta were tied for third at 9-3 after the championship round, which required a tiebreaker game to solve.

Jones, a six-time champion at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, was chasing a record seventh title.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Let ‘er buck: Study suggests horses learn from rodeo experience, grow calmer

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CALGARY — Rodeo fans love the thrill of a bronc exploding into the ring, cowboy temporarily aboard. How the horse feels about it hasn’t been so clear.

Newly published research out of the University of Calgary looks at three years of roughstock events from that city’s Stampede in an attempt to peer inside the mind of an animal about to let ‘er buck.

“I try to understand the animal’s perspective,” said Ed Pajor, a professor of veterinary medicine. “We asked the question whether or not horses find participating in the rodeo to be an adversive experience or not.”

Pajor and his co-authors — Christy Goldhawk from the University of Calgary and well-known animal behaviourist Temple Grandin — studied 116 horses in bareback, novice bareback, saddle bronc and novice saddle bronc events. They looked at animals about to be loaded into a trailer and taken to the ring. They also observed how the horses behaved while in the chute waiting to be unleashed.

Horses have all kinds of ways of showing they’re unhappy, Pajor said. They might move back and forth, chew their lips, swish their tail, defecate, roll their eyes, paw the ground, toss their head, or rear up in protest.

The researchers found that the more people were around them, the more likely the horses were to show unease. That’s probably because they spend most of their time in fields and pastures and aren’t used to the bustle, Pajor said.

The other factor that affected behaviour was experience. If it wasn’t their first rodeo, the horses were much less likely to act up.

“We didn’t see a lot of attempts to escape. We didn’t see a lot of fear-related behaviours at all,” Pajor said. “The animals were pretty calm.

“The animals that had little experience were much more reactive than the animals that had lots of experience.”

There could be different reasons for that, he suggested.

“We don’t know if that’s because they’re used to the situation or whether that’s because of learned helplessness — they realize there’s nothing they can do and just give up.”

Pajor suspects the former.

“When the cowboys came near the horses, they would certainly react and you wouldn’t really see that if it was learned helplessness.”

The researchers also noted that the horses’ bucking performance, as revealed in the score from the rodeo judges, didn’t seem to be reduced by repeated appearances as it might be if the animals had become apathetic.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the horses are having a good time, said Pajor, who’s also on the Stampede’s animal welfare advisory board. There are a couple of ways of interpreting active behaviour in the chute, he said.

“An animal might be getting excited to perform. Or an animal might be having a fear response.”

“Understanding if animals like to do something is a tricky thing to do.”

Pajor knows there are different camps when it comes to rodeos and animals.

“People have very strong opinions on the use of animals for all kinds of reasons. I think no matter what we’re going to use animals for, we really need to make sure that we treat them humanely.

“My job is to do the research to understand the animals’ perspective.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2021.

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow @row1960 on Twitter

The Canadian Press

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