COVID-19 has now killed more Albertans than last 10 flu seasons combined

COVID-19 has now killed more people in Alberta than influenza did over the last 10 years combined, the province’s top public health doctor says.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw issued that stark reminder during her update on the pandemic, which has now killed 760 people since March.

“It is a sobering statistic that in less than 10 months, more Albertans have now died from COVID-19 than have died from influenza in the last 10 years combined,” Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday at a  news conference.

“Today I want to remind anyone who is in the 20 to 40 age range that this virus also impacts you,” she said.

“In Alberta to date, more than 32,000 people between the ages of 20 and 39 have contracted COVID-19. More than 380 of them have been hospitalized, and sadly, eight of these have died.

“To put this in perspective, if you gathered every Albertan between the ages of 20 and 39 who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, they would fill the Saddledome in Calgary, the Centrium in Red Deer and the Enmax Centre in Lethbridge.”

Virus does not discriminate

The coronavirus does not discriminate, and can have long-term and potentially devastating impact for anyone who contracts the illness, she said, urging people of all ages not to take COVID-19 lightly. 

“For everyone of any age, including those between the ages of 20 and 39, it is vital to avoid in-person interactions whenever possible,” Hinshaw said.

“This includes not having holiday parties or other gatherings in our homes. Instead, we must all look for ways to connect virtually.”

WATCH | Dr. Hinshaw says COVID-19 vaccine is effective and safe:

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says that the new vaccination against COVID-19 is safe and it works. 1:54

Hinshaw said Alberta Health Services continues to take steps to increase hospital capacity and expand the number of acute-care and ICU beds. Some are new beds and, in some cases, existing beds will be made available as patients are moved into continuing-care centres.

AHS is also working with the Canadian Red Cross to set up an alternate care centre at the Butterdome on the University of Alberta’s campus, she said.

“It will take a few weeks to set up the care centre, which could add an additional 100 inpatient beds,” Hinshaw said. “There is no plan to staff these beds unless they are needed. This is a purely precautionary measure for use if needed in the future.”

Vaccine rollout still being developed

The first phase of the province’s vaccine program, which provided its initial doses on Tuesday, will target people who are at the highest risk of severe outcomes and those who care for them, Hinshaw said.

During the first quarter of 2021, she said the vaccine will be given to long-term care residents, staff who work in long-term care and designated supportive living centres, health-care workers in the highest risk areas of hospitals and people over the age of 75. 

“What we’re seeing as our Phase 2 would include priority groups who are more of those first-responders and front-line professionals, and that is set to roll out … at this time, we anticipate in April of 2021,” she said.

Decisions haven’t yet been made about which of the first-responder groups or front-line workers would be prioritized first, and Hinshaw said those discussions will happen early in the new year. 

“We don’t know yet exactly how much vaccine we will have. We continue to work with the federal government to make sure that we are getting updates.

“And as more vaccine is available, and as potentially new vaccines are licensed, we may be able to move those dates, if things move more quickly than anticipated. But at this point that is our anticipated timeline.”

Latest numbers

More than nine months into the worst pandemic in a century, Albertans have become accustomed to watching the daily numbers — new cases, active cases, hospitalizations, test numbers, outbreaks in schools, even something called the R value — essentially the number of people infected by each infected person. And the saddest number of all, deaths.

Here’s where things sat as of Wednesday’s update:

  • 1,270 new cases.
  • 20,169 active cases.
  • 749 people in hospital, including 139 in ICU.
  • 17,569 tests, a total of 1,587,574 people tested.
  • A positivity rate of 7.3 per cent.
  • 16 more deaths, for a total of 760.

The provincial R value from Dec. 7-13 was 0.98. (An R-value of one means each person with the illness only infects one other person.)

  • Edmonton Zone – 1.00.
  • Calgary Zone – 0.92.
  • Rest of Alberta – 1.01.

More than 84,000 Albertans have contracted the disease since the pandemic began, with 63,668 now listed as recovered.

The regional breakdown of cases on Wednesday was:

  • Edmonton zone: 9,715
  • Calgary zone: 7,122
  • Central zone: 1,496
  • North zone: 1,245
  • South zone: 553
  • Unknown: 76  

Health Minister Tyler Shandro is expected to provide an update on the next phase of rapid testing at a news conference scheduled for 9 a.m. on Thursday.

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