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With COVID-19 on the rise in Alberta, what constitutes a fourth wave in a nation filled with vaccines? – CTV News

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TORONTO —
The R-value has climbed to peak COVID-19 levels in Alberta, even as daily case numbers remain fairly low, prompting the question: What constitutes a fourth wave of the pandemic in a country that has enough vaccines to inoculate everyone?

The R-value of COVID-19, or the “effective reproduction number,” is a way of measuring an infectious disease’s capacity to spread. It represents the number of people who will become infected by one infected person.

Alberta’s value was logged around 1.48 over the weekend according to provincial data, whereas at the peak of the third wave of the pandemic in the province when daily cases were around 1,500, the R-value fluctuated around 1.15.

“If your ‘R’ is greater than one, you’re obviously growing. If the ‘R’ is less than one, you have a shrinking epidemic,” explained infectious disease expert Dr. Isaac Bogoch in a telephone interview with CTVNews.ca Wednesday. “A growing epidemic’s values are greater than one – a shrinking epidemic’s value are less than one.”

Alberta Health reported 194 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, making the active case count stand at 1,334, the highest it has been in weeks. Eighty-four people are getting treated for COVID-19 in the hospital including 18 that were admitted to the ICU.

On Wednesday, in her first COVID-19 update in nearly a month, chief medical officer of health for Alberta Dr. Deena Hinshaw said “cases have risen recently, almost entirely in those who have not been fully vaccinated, as we expected would likely happen, as people come in close contact with each other again… I am pleased that overall hospitalizations continue to decline. And we will keep watching these closely.”

Hinshaw also reported that since July 1, people who were not fully immunized made up 95 per cent of all cases of COVID-19 in the province, 94 per cent of all those who have needed hospital care for COVID-19, and 95 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths.

Adjunct professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta and former chief medical officer of health for the province Dr. James Talbot says the numbers are cause for concern.

“The numbers are going in the wrong direction,” Talbot said in an interview with CTV National News. “We were down to 30 to 50 cases a day…[it’s] a significant increase, and as predicted the Delta variant is now dominant.”

Talbot said the highly transmissible variant is “causing 90 per cent of the cases” and could cause an “exponential growth” of daily cases especially amongst those who are unvaccinated.

“It’s bad news for the province,” he said, adding that in light of Alberta lifting most public health restrictions on July 1, “the absence of any kind of control measures in place except immunisation, what you’re left with is 25 per cent of people over the age of 12 who can serve as fuel for this fire – and then you have all the kids under 12 who, of course, haven’t been immunised, who will also be transmitting the virus.”

In an emailed statement on Wednesday, the Alberta provincial government stated that “nearly 75.6 per cent of eligible Albertans have now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 64.3 per cent are fully immunized.”

“Vaccines dramatically reduce the risk of severe outcomes and the risk of infection. While COVID-19 cases may rise in the coming months, a surge of hospitalizations and other severe outcomes is much less likely thanks to vaccines,” the statement continues.

Canada now has enough COVID-19 vaccines to fully inoculate every eligible person over the age of 12, with more than 66 million doses received as of Tuesday, but despite the glut of vaccines and Alberta’s vaccination rate, Talbot said the province’s vaccine number announcement leave out a crucial piece of context.

“The key thing here is that 25 per cent are unimmunised; they have no protection,” he said, adding that that number has not budged in six weeks. “In the past, they were protected by the fact that there were people who were wearing masks, social distancing, et cetera, that they have no protection now.”

Alberta has the second-lowest vaccination rate in the country after Saskatchewan.

Talbot said with the Delta variant, unvaccinated Albertans and a rising R-value, the exponential growth of cases or “doubling time” could conservatively be between “a week to two weeks.”

“Take 10 days. So if we’re at 100 [cases]… 10 days from now, 200, 10 days after that, 400, 10 days after that… by the end of the month, 800 cases per day,” he said.

“I mean, we were hoping to really get back to normal for schools and workplaces in September, and this is potentially going to put that in jeopardy,” Talbot said.

A FOURTH WAVE OR ‘AN EXPECTED RISE IN CASES’?

But where Talbot sees a potential fourth wave, Bogoch said it’s important to “change the narrative.”

“You know, I know everyone’s trying to focus on Alberta, but I think the important point here is that it’s not just Alberta, it’s Canada,” he said. “As you open up, which everybody is doing, to some extent, you’re going to see a rise in cases — we know that’s going to happen.”

Bogoch said “it should come as no surprise” that if you give a virus like COVID-19 an “opportunity to be transmitted, it will be transmitted.”

B.C., which reported 185 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, has made masks mandatory again in indoor public places as parts of the interior see a spike in cases.

Ontario reported 158 new COVID-19 cases, as the seven-day rolling average of daily COVID-19 cases stands around at 160, up from 155 the previous week.

“It’s not just Alberta,” Bogoch said. “It’s actually a bigger issue. And the question is to what extent will we be able to mitigate that rise in cases? To what extent will we be able to keep the pressure off of our health care system amongst amidst an expected rise in cases?”

“Cases are going to go up. We know that’s going to happen. Alberta is just the first,” he said.

Bogoch also pointed out after well over a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country knows “how to keep this under control.”

“We can vaccinate, we can create safer indoor spaces like schools, places of work, restaurants, et cetera, so it’s not like we don’t know how,” he said, adding that “now, a lot of the decisions are really political decisions, not just medical and scientific and public health.”

Alberta announced Wednesday it will lift much of its remaining COVID-19 restrictions in the coming days, despite the rise in cases – for example, on Aug. 16, people who test positive for COVID-19 will not be mandated to quarantine anymore, but the province will recommend it.

“You know, the pandemic isn’t over, we’re doing really well and this is a great opportunity to strike while the iron is hot,” Bogoch said. “We’ve got enough vaccines to vaccinate every eligible Canadian, we’ve got health-care systems that are not overwhelmed at the moment, we’ve got a population that’s quite willing to be vaccinated, and we’ve got very low rates of community transmission at the moment. So this is this is an opportune time to really get everything in order to prepare for an expected rise in cases that we’re going to see later in the summer, probably in the fall.

“We can’t ignore that we’re way better off now than we were weeks and weeks and months ago.”

—–

With files from CTV National News’ Heather Butts

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Proof of COVID-19 vaccination required at Prince Edward County rec facilities and town halls – Quinte News

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The municipality of Prince Edward County is making some rule changes to comply with Ontario’s vaccine passport program.

Tuesday afternoon the municipality sent out a press release stating that anyone over 12 years of age looking to enter municipal recreation facilities or town halls will need to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

This applies to meeting spaces and municipal offices as well.

Anyone looking to enter any of these facilities will need to show a paper or electronic proof of vaccination along with government-issued identification.

However, anyone accessing front counter services at Shire Hall, the Edward Building and the Picton Fire station will not need to provide proof of vaccination as active screening and contact tracing will continue at those locations.

Proof of vaccination is also not required to be shown by workers and volunteers, including coaches and officials, at recreation facilities.

See the full press release from Prince Edward County below:

New provincial regulations will require people 12 years of age or older to be fully vaccinated and provide proof of their vaccination status to access the municipality’s meeting spaces, town halls, and recreation facilities beginning September 22, 2021.

People will be required to show:

  • An electronic or paper copy of their COVID-19 vaccination receipt indicating they are fully vaccinated
  • Matching government-issued identification with name and date of birth, such as a driver’s licence, birth certificate, citizenship card, Indian status card/Indigenous membership card, passport, permanent resident card or health card.

Children under 12 years of age are exempt under the provincial regulations.

Learn more about how the regulations apply for different buildings and spaces:

Municipal offices, meeting spaces, and town halls

People attending a meeting or event in a municipal building or town hall will be required to show proof of their vaccination status.

However, people accessing front counter services at Shire Hall, the Edward Building, and the Picton fire station do not have to provide proof of vaccination status. Active COVID-19 screening and contact tracing will continue at those locations.

Recreation facilities

Proof of vaccination status is required for recreation facility patrons 18 years and older, including parents or guardians of youth actively participating in an organized sport. Proof of identification and proof of being fully vaccinated is not required for workers or volunteers, including coaches and officials.

Patrons under 18 years of age who are entering the indoor premises of a facility used for sports and recreational fitness activities solely for the purpose of actively participating in an organized sport do not have to show proof of vaccination. This applies to training, practices, games and competitions. The exemption does not apply to youth who are spectators at sporting events; furthermore, it does not apply to youth who are using a gym or other area with exercise equipment or weights unless actively participating in an organized sport.

Businesses and other spaces

Under the provincial regulations, certain businesses, including restaurants and bars, meeting and event spaces, and facilities used for sports and fitness activities, such as gyms, will be required to check for proof of vaccination.

Visit the Province of Ontario website to learn more about the details of the provincial requirements for various settings.

More information

County Council will receive a report at its Sept. 28 meeting with a proposed policy and procedure regarding vaccine requirements for municipal staff. The report will be posted as part of the Council agenda package later this week.

For more information, contact the County of Prince Edward at 613.476.2148 extension 1023, 613.962.9108 extension 1023, or info@pecounty.on.ca.

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Rural schools close as Alberta's COVID-19 vaccine passport system begins – Powell River Peak

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EDMONTON — Two schools in rural Alberta closed their classrooms Monday over the number of students not attending because of COVID-19 infections as Edmonton police introduced tough new vaccine requirements on the first day of the province’s new proof-of-vaccination program.

The Big Valley and Donalda schools, both in central Alberta’s Clearview Public School Division, announced that too many students are away from school to continue in-person classes.

“The percentage of students away continues to be over 10 per cent with reported cases of COVID-19,” the division said in a release.

The two schools are closed to in-person learning for students in Grades 1 through 9 until Oct. 1. Kindergarten and playschool classes will continue.

“Instruction and learning opportunities will be offered using a combination of online and paper-based materials,” the release said. “Classroom teachers will provide a detailed schedule so that students will have direct access to them at specified times during the day.”

Alberta Education spokeswoman Nicole Sparrow said the province received the request from the school division, which must be approved before a school can actually close.

“Approval from the Minister of Education is required for a short-term shift of one or more schools or an entire school authority to at-home/online learning,” she wrote in an email. 

“A decision for a school authority request will be based on the ability of a school to have staff available to operate in-school classes.” 

The Edmonton Police Service said it will give its members three choices on immunization: vaccinate, pay for their own rapid COVID-19 tests or stay home without pay until the situation changes or one of the first two conditions is met. 

“(Police) volunteers and contractors will also be required to either indicate they have been fully vaccinated or submit to rapid testing to engage in their duties,” the service said in a release. 

Police spokeswoman Chery Sheppard said more than 86 per cent of the service’s sworn and civilian employees have been fully vaccinated.  

Alberta averaged about 1,500 new cases daily over the weekend, recording 4,633 cases between Friday and Sunday. The province had 954 people with COVID-19 in hospital, 216 of them in intensive care.

The province recorded 22 deaths over the three days.

Earlier Monday, the government released more details about which businesses and institutions come under its restriction exemption plan, allowing eligible public organizations to function more normally. 

Retail stores, libraries, hotels and post-secondary institutions will not be required to take part in the program, nor will worshippers at a church, employees on a work site or students on a school trip.

Some restrictions will still apply. 

Stores must limit shoppers to one-third of normal capacity, for example, and people in indoor public spaces must still be masked. 

Entertainment facilities from restaurants to nightclubs to art galleries are all eligible to participate in the program, allowing them to operate with fewer restrictions as long as they require patrons to show proof of vaccination. 

Premier Jason Kenney announced the program last week. Retail stores and libraries were initially on the list of eligible organizations but were removed on the weekend.

Kenney had previously opposed a vaccine passport over what he said were privacy concerns. He switched to support for passports as Alberta’s hospitals faced the prospect of being overwhelmed in the pandemic’s fourth wave.

Starting Sunday, immunized Albertans could download proof-of-vaccination cards, but some pointed out they could be easily altered. 

A health ministry spokeswoman said work continues on a more secure QR code that would be available in the coming weeks. Starting Tuesday, Albertans will be able to request a free, printed version of their vaccination records from a registry agent.

Over the weekend, the province’s four largest health-care unions asked Kenney to request help from the military, the Red Cross and any other available medical resources able to assist hospitals caring for an increasing number of patients.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2021.

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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Saskatchewan’s digital proof of vaccination launches ahead of October requirement – Red Deer Advocate

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REGINA — Saskatchewan residents were able on Monday to start downloading a digital QR code from their eHealth account showing proof of vaccination.

The government said in a news release that the code — which can be downloaded or printed — replaces the COVID-19 vaccination record that was made available in August but did not include a digital format.

The province announced last week that proof of vaccination will be required at non-essential businesses — including restaurants, casinos, movie theatres and indoor sports venues — beginning Oct. 1.

It won’t be required for civil services, retail or grocery stores, places of worship, hotels or at non-ticketed amateur sporting events.

Businesses can verify the QR codes on mobile devices using a special app.

The news release said travellers at international borders will also be able to use the code.

“This is the next, improved, version of Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 vaccination record,” Health Minister Paul Merriman said in the release.

“It has been something that travellers, businesses and organizations have been asking for.”

The announcement followed a record-breaking 543 daily cases in Saskatchewan on Sunday.

On Monday, the province reported 519 infections and two deaths. The active number of cases stood at 4,672. Some 253 people were being treated in hospital.

Saskatchewan remains in the first phase of its triage plan, which means choices are being made about which surgeries need to be cancelled to free up space.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2021.

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