Local Journalism Initiative
Premier says how pandemic plays out is up to Albertans
Premier Jason Kenney released modelling projections for COVID-19 by Alberta Health that he believes highlight the importance of continuing aggressive countermeasures.
Alberta’s per capita number of recorded infections is the second highest in Canada, but the rate of hospitalizations due to Covid-19 is much lower than Ontario, Quebec, and BC. Kenney stated in an address to the province on April 7 that the high recorded infections is due to one of the highest levels of testing in the world.
He also added that Ontario, Quebec, and BC all saw their first cases before Alberta, and Alberta may still catch up to their numbers.
“You’ve probably heard about the “curve” of infections. That’s the rate at which infections grow in a country or region. I’m glad to report that the curve in Alberta is much lower than many other parts of the world,” Kenney said.
Modelling was released on April 8, showing three very different scenarios – probable, elevated, and extreme.
Given early and aggressive interventions and contact tracing to limit spread, the probable scenario is expected to be the most likely scenario for Alberta.
This probable scenario projects that Alberta will hit the peak in mid-May, with as many as 800,000 infections, and between 400 and 3,100 deaths from the beginning until the end of the summer.
The probable peak of hospitalizations is projected to be in late May, ranging from 736 to 900.
“Those numbers are not inevitable. How this actually plays out – how many people are infected, how many die, whether we overwhelm our healthcare system – all of that depends on us and our choices,” Kenney said.
Choices include following the rules and recommendations set out by health officials in the province.
“We are confident that our health system will be able to cope, and that we have the supplies on hand to get the job done,” Kenney said.
The elevated scenario, which Kenney called less likely, shows infections peak at the beginning of May, with as many as 1 million infections, and between 500 and 6,600 deaths.
The extreme scenario shows what would have happened if Alberta did not undertake early and aggressive interventions and contact tracing to limit spread.
Without those measures in place, the peak could have seen 1.6 million total infections and anywhere from 16,000 to 32,000 total deaths.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) has received an extra $500M for the fight against COVID-19.
The North Zone, in which Hinton is located, currently has 33 hospitals, with 929 beds, 12 intensive care units, and 33 ventilators.
Alberta in total has 8,483 hospital beds, with 509 ventilators. AHS plans to have 2,250 COVID-19 designated acute care beds by the end of April.
This is being achieved by postponing scheduled surgeries, tests and procedures, transferring patients who no longer require acute care to a community setting, increasing occupancy while maintaining physical distance between patients, and opening overcapacity, and new and decommissioned spaces.
AHS is also planning an increase of ICU capacity by 1081 beds for COVID-19 patients by the end of April, and to have 761 ventilators available by the end of April.
To prepare the workforce for COVID-19, AHS is accelerating training for ICU nurses, preparing new models of care to expand the reach of existing ICU nurses, working with the faculties of nursing to complete senior practicums to enable the nurses to enter the workforce, contacting former registered nurses with ICU experience and other recently retired staff, and redeploy anesthesiologists, other physicians, other nurses, respiratory therapists, other allied health professionals and other staff with appropriate skills to work in a critical care environment.
In his provincial address, Kenney stated that despite the huge financial stress on families and small business owners, lifting the public health order now would force an even more stringent lockdown in the future.
This means that public health orders may stay in place until at least the end of May.
Alberta Health models suggest social distancing measures should not be lifted until the end of May.
Kenney said once the peak is past and the province can begin to releax rules, a Relaunch Strategy will be implemented. That strategy includes an aggressive system of mass testing, more precise tracing of close contacts of those who are infected, strong border screening, enforcing quarantine orders, and encouraging and facilitating the use of masks in crowded public spaces.
“Ultimately this virus will pose a great threat to human health until a vaccine or effective drug treatments are widely available. AHS is already participating in trials, and we will do everything we can to accelerate development of effective tests, drugs and vaccines,” Kenney said.
Kenney compared the economic downturn to the 1930s, but he expects a global economic recovery from Covid-19 later this year.
The crash in energy prices means that Alberta’s downturn will be deeper, with a slower recovery.
In an effort to help families and employers, the province committed $12B to the Covid-19 Action Plan, which includes initiatives like deferrals on taxes, mortgages, utility payments, and student loans; extra money for homeless shelters and charities serving the isolated; and emergency isolation payments.
“We will do more, including a huge new investment in job-creating infrastructure projects,” Kenney said.
Due to the crisis, Alberta’s budget deficit this year may triple from $7 billion to almost $20 billion, he added.