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Alberta

COVID-19 Friday update, 4 new deaths, 58 new case, outdoor gatherings upped to 50 people, Dr. Hinshaw cutbacks & more

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In the government’s COVID-19 Friday May 15th update, chief medical officer of health for Alberta Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported four more deaths, 58 new case, changes to the outdoor gathering rules now up to 50 people and she plans to cutback her attendance at the daily reports, among other information.

There have been four new deaths and 58 new case since Thursday’s report. Alberta has now had a total of 125 deaths and 6,515 confirmed cases of the coronavirus since the pandemic began here in early March. The four latest victims were residents of continuing care facilities in the Calgary Zone. There are currently 1,073 active cases across the province, 62 of them in hospital, and nine of those in intensive care units.

Dr. Hinshaw had a message for Albertans as they head into a long weekend, “Even while we begin to enter Stage 1 of our relaunch, let us remember this virus still poses a risk, particularly to the elderly and people with chronic medical conditions,” Adding, “We need to remember that no Albertan is expendable.”

“The better that we can collectively hold our infection rate stable and low as we move into this Stage 1, the quicker we can move into Stage 2,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds over City of Edmonton as part of cross country tour to thank essential workers, Hugo Sanchez Photography

 

Updated guidelines for outdoor gatherings to 50 people

“As we start to ease certain restrictions, it is increasingly important that we all continue to take proper precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” Hinshaw said As the weather continues to warm up and just in time for the long weekend, the limit for outdoor gatherings has increased from 15 to 50 effective Friday May 15.

  • Albertans are still asked to keep a two-metre distance from others and practising proper hygiene.
  • If you’re holding a gathering in your backyard, you’re encouraged to sanitize doorknobs and washrooms if guests are going inside and have hand sanitizer available. Indoor gatherings are still limited to a maximum of 15 people or fewer.
  • Physical distance of two metres must remain between people from different households, and attendees must follow proper hygiene practices.
  • Attendees should not share food or drinks.
  • Indoor gatherings are still limited to fewer than 15 people, except when otherwise identified in public health orders such as workplaces, places of worship, and in restaurants.
  • Download the ABTraceTogether app and turning it on when leaving home.

Staying safe over the long weekend

Provincial parks are open, but some facilities remain closed, campfires are not permitted, and camping does not open until June 1.

Albertans should follow public health guidelines and take extra steps to keep members of their household safe when heading to provincial parks, cottages, and onto public land this weekend.

This includes:

  • Respecting the health and safety of small communities along the way by planning their trip without stops for gas or food, where possible. Continuing to practise physical distancing and proper handwashing.
  • Respecting municipal restrictions for playgrounds. If playgrounds can be accessed, encourage children to play with children in the same household or their cohort family, sanitize hands before or after playing on a play structure, and remember to wash everyone’s hands thoroughly as soon as possible.
  • Download the ABTraceTogether app and turning it on when leaving home.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw provided update on Friday, May 15th. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

Dr. Hinshaw to reduce her attendance at media updates

In a surprise announcement, the stoic, confident, strong face and voice Albertans have grown accustomed at the daily Covid-19 update, Dr. Hinshaw announced she is cutting back her attendance after this long weekend.

Explaining, “The pandemic is far from over,” Hinshaw said. “However, in consideration of the reduced number of cases overall and the fact that we have begun to resume operations under Stage 1 of Alberta’s relaunch strategy, I made the recommendation to scale down the frequency of my availabilities.”

“I know many have become accustomed to these daily updates. I ensure you I remain committed to transparency and while the number of availabilities may decrease, I will continue to provide the information you rely on.” She said

Hinshaw new schedule for attending news conferences will be every other weekday, starting Tuesday, but of course would revert back if Covid-19 numbers or policies changed significantly. Updates on numbers will be provided daily in online reports throughout the long weekend.

Coviod-19 by the numbers. Alberta cases as of Friday:

  • 58 new cases reported, bringing the number of total active cases to 1,073.
  • There are 103 active cases and 576 recovered cases at continuing care facilities; 91 residents at these facilities have died.
  • The total deaths are 125. With 89 in the Calgary zone, 15 in the North zone, 12 in the Edmonton zone, eight in the South zone and one in the Central zone.
  • Calgary zone: 870 active, 3,505
  • South zone: 106 active, 1,069
  • Edmonton zone: 61 active, 444 recovered.
  • North zone: 18 active, 195
  • Central zone: 13 active, 85 recovered.
  • Five active cases and 19 recovered cases in zones yet to be confirmed
  • There have been 189,225 people tested for COVID-19, with a total of 204,723 tests performed by the lab. In the last 24 hours, 4,505 tests have been completed.

Interactive aggregate data on COVID-19 cases in Alberta
https://www.alberta.ca/stats/covid-19-alberta-statistics.htm
Daily updates from Alberta Government https://www.alberta.ca/news.aspx

Alberta Connects hours of operation

  • The Alberta Connects Contact Centre (310-4455) has resumed normal operating hours and is available to Albertans Monday to Friday, from 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The centre will not be operating over the long weekend. Service will resume on May 19.

Stage one of relaunch has begun

  • Stage one of Alberta’s relaunch strategy puts safety first as restrictions are gradually lifted and Albertans begin to get back to work. Calgary and Brooks will see a more gradual reopening, taking into account higher case numbers in these two cities, to balance public safety with the need to get businesses open and services restored for Albertans.

    Businesses and locations that are reopening can access a template on at BizConnect

Supporting Alberta businesses through relaunch

  • The Alberta Biz Connect web page provides business owners with information on health and safety guidelines for general workplaces and sector-specific guidelines for those able to open in stage one of relaunch to ensure businesses can reopen safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Businesses and locations that are reopening can access a template on at BizConnect to publicly post how employees and patrons are protected from the spread of infection. The timeline to complete this template has been extended from seven to 14 days.
  • This template is voluntary for locations that have remained open.

Limited road tests to begin

  • Alberta Transportation is developing a plan to safely resume all road tests while preventing the spread of COVID-19.
  • As part of the Government of Alberta’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a limited number of road tests are available.
  • Information on the limited road tests can be found on the COVID-19 Commercial Carrier Information

Access to justice

  • The Court of Queen’s Bench will extend its limitation of hearings to emergency and urgent matters only to June 26, and the adjournment of criminal jury trials and jury selections to September 8.
  • More information can be found online.

Albertans are encouraged to download and use ABTraceTogether app

  • The ABTraceTogether app will enhance current manual contact tracing and capacity, and facilitate early detection to help reduce the spread of the virus and better protect Albertans. It means Albertans will be contacted more quickly if they are at risk.
  • Use of the app is voluntary; users must opt in.
  • The app does not track the user’s physical location and does not use GPS. Protecting privacy is paramount; all contact data is only on the user’s phone and is deleted after 21 days.
  • Secure contact tracing is a cornerstone of Alberta’s Relaunch Strategy. More information on the app, including links to download it, can be found online.
  • The app currently has 171,884 registered users.

Mental health supports

  • Confidential supports are available to help with mental health concerns. The Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642 and the Addiction Help Line at 1-866-332-2322 are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Canadian Mental Health Association has a variety of resources available at mentalhealthweek.ca
  • The Kids Help Phone is available 24-7 and offers professional counselling, information and referrals and volunteer-led, text-based support to young people by texting CONNECT to 686868.
  • Online resources provide advice on handling stressful situations and ways to talk with children.

Family violence prevention

  • A 24-hour Family Violence Information Line is available at 310-1818 to get anonymous help in more than 170 languages.
  • Alberta’s One Line for Sexual Violence is available at 1-866-403-8000, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • The requirement for in-person Emergency Protection Order (EPO) applications for those fleeing family violence has been temporarily suspended; provincial courts can now hear applications for EPOs via telecommunication.
  • Information sheets and other resources on family violence prevention are available at alberta.ca/COVID19.

Quick facts

  • The most important measure Albertans can take to prevent respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, is to practise good hygiene. This includes cleaning your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching your face, coughing or sneezing into your elbow or sleeve, and disposing of tissues appropriately.
  • Any individual exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, fever, runny nose, sore throat or shortness of breath, is eligible for testing. People can access testing by completing the COVID-19 self-assessment online. A separate self-assessment tool is available for health-care and shelter workers, enforcement and first responders. After completing the form, there is no need to call 811.
  • Albertans are asked to share acts of kindness they have experienced in their community during this difficult time by using the hashtag #AlbertaCares.

Alberta

Alberta utility TransAlta vows to be carbon neutral by 2050 as it notes $167M loss

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CALGARY — Power generator TransAlta Corp. says it has set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050 after cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 60 per cent below 2015 levels by 2030.

The Calgary-based utility company is in the process of retiring its Edmonton-area thermal coal mining operations and converting all of its coal power generation in Canada to natural gas by the end of 2021, while eliminating its coal generation at a facility in Washington State by the end of 2025.

In a news release, retiring CEO Dawn Farrell says 2020 was a “pivotal year” for TransAlta, noting that it completed its first coal-to-gas Alberta power plant conversion.

She says the company cut an additional 4.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions compared with 2019 and deployed 77 megawatts of net wind and energy storage while continuing to build affiliate TransAlta Renewables Inc.

TransAlta reported a fourth-quarter net loss of $167 million on revenue of $544 million for the three months ended Dec. 31, compared with a net profit of $66 million on $609 million in the same period of 2019.

Analysts had expected a loss of $102 million on revenue of $492 million, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.

“We are well into our emissions reduction journey as a company and we feel our clean electricity strategy is well aligned with a longer-term carbon neutral goal,” said chief operating officer John Kousinioris, who is to take over as CEO at the end of March.

“Setting this (carbon neutral) goal provides a meaningful internal signal to our team as we execute our growth strategy but provides flexibility over the coming decades.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:TA, TSX:RNW)

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

B.C. defends plan to delay second dose as Ontario, Alberta consider following suit

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VANCOUVER — British Columbia health officials say their plan to delay the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine to four months is based on scientific evidence and real-world experience, as Ontario and Alberta consider following the province’s lead.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, responded Tuesday to criticism from Canada’s chief science adviser. Henry said the decision was made in the context of limited supply and based on strong local and international data.

“This makes sense for us, knowing that it is a critical time right now with the limited amount of vaccines that we have in the coming weeks, to be able to provide that protection … to everybody here,” Henry said at a COVID-19 briefing.

“That is why we made the decision that we did.”

Chief science adviser Mona Nemer told the CBC on Monday that B.C.’s plan amounts to a “population-level experiment” and that the data provided so far by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech is based on an interval of three to four weeks between doses.

Henry said the manufacturers structured their clinical trials that way to get the vaccines to market as quickly as possible, but research in B.C., Quebec, Israel and the United Kingdom has shown that first doses are highly effective.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control examined the effects of a single dose on long-term care residents and health-care workers and found that it reduced the risk of the virus by up to 90 per cent within two to three weeks, Henry said.

“It is a little bit unfortunate that the national science adviser … obviously was not involved in some of these discussions and decision-making and perhaps did not understand the context that this decision was made in,” Henry said.

Dr. Danuta Skowronski, a B.C. Centre for Disease Control epidemiology lead whose work underpinned the province’s plan, said Pfizer-BioNTech underestimated the efficacy of its first dose in its submissions to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Skowronski said the company included data from the first two weeks after trial participants received the shot, a time when vaccines typically aren’t effective. When she and her colleagues adjusted the data, they found it was 92 per cent effective, similar to the Moderna vaccine.

She said B.C.’s plan was based on the basic principles of vaccine science. The protection from a first dose of vaccine does not suddenly disappear, it gradually wanes over time, and scientists are typically more concerned about providing a second dose too soon rather than too late, she said.

“I think if the public had a chance to hear and to understand that, they would say, ‘OK, this is not messing around. This is really managing risk in a way that maximizes protection to as many Canadians as possible.'”

B.C. has administered 283,182 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to date, including more than 86,000 second doses. The province reported 438 new cases of the virus on Tuesday and two more deaths, pushing the death toll in B.C. to 1,365.

Henry said she expects a statement soon from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization aligning with the province’s decision, while Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Tuesday she wanted to wait for such a recommendation.

Elliott said extending the interval between doses would allow the province to get some level of protection to more people.

“This would be a considerable change,” she said.

“With the variants of concern out there, this could make a significant difference for Ontario in reducing hospitalizations and deaths. So, we are anxiously awaiting NACI’s review of this to determine what they have to say in their recommendations.”

Dr. Shelley Deeks, vice-chair of the national committee, said in an email the group is expected to issue a statement on extending the dose interval on Wednesday, but she did not confirm it would align with B.C.’s plan.

Alberta’s health minister said a committee of COVID-19 experts is analyzing emerging data and a decision on whether to follow B.C.’s lead is coming.

“There’s fantastic evidence that’s coming out,” Tyler Shandro said Tuesday.

“What the exact period of time (between doses) is going to be is still to be decided. We’ll be announcing it soon, but we will be looking at having that length of time between first and second extended.”

Alberto Martin, a University of Toronto immunology professor, said there is “obviously some concern” about B.C.’s plan because he is not aware of any clinical trial that examined a four-month gap between Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna doses.

However, he said difficult times — when the vaccine supply is so limited — require drastic measures.

“It’s a difficult decision to make. I don’t know whether I’d like to be in that position, but I think it’s understandable why they’re doing this.”

Daniel Coombs, a University of British Columbia mathematician who has done COVID-19 modelling, said Nemer was right that B.C. was conducting an “experiment,” but it seemed to be a necessary one.

He added that the province may also be anticipating the approval of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which only requires one shot.

Michael Houghton, director of the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute at the University of Alberta, said the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine data shows that one shot conveys 76 per cent protection for the next 12 weeks.

Houghton said he is more concerned about extending the dose interval to 16 weeks for the other two approved vaccines.

“These make vaccinologists nervous since, usually, we use in the real world what was tested in the clinic, but given the vaccine shortage, perhaps desperate times warrant such calculated gambles.”

— With files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter in Toronto and Sylvia Strojek in Edmonton.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021.

Laura Dhillon Kane, The Canadian Press

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