September was arguably Alberta’s worst month of the COVID-19 pandemic, provincial data suggests.

More Albertans tested positive for COVID-19 than in any month prior, and records for hospital and ICU admissions were set. September was also the deadliest month since the pandemic’s second wave.

Craig Jenne, an associate professor of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary, says the more infectious delta variant combined with delayed government action and insufficient public health measures and the failure to reach herd immunity through vaccination are the main causes of the situation.

“When we backed off restrictions, the virus was able to exploit that and really move quite quickly through the unvaccinated,” said Jenne.

Alberta reported 45,665 COVID-19 cases last month, accounting for more than 15 per cent of all known cases in the province since the pandemic began.

Hospitalizations peaked at 1,122 on Sept. 27, while the number of patients in intensive care reached 268 on Sept. 28.

Meanwhile, 259 Albertans died from the illness last month. More deaths in a single month were reported last November and December, and in January.

The lower number of deaths shows the efficacy of vaccines, Jenne said.

“In areas without vaccine coverage, this delta variant is really causing havoc. And tragically, we’re losing lives at a rate that’s extremely disturbing over the last couple of weeks here in Alberta.”

Vaccine uptake plateaued last summer, but has spiked since Alberta’s proof of vaccination program was announced.

As of Sept. 30, 74.5 per cent of Albertans aged 12 and up have received two doses of vaccine; 83.8 per cent have received one jab.

Alberta delayed putting in restrictions

People were more cautious of the novel coronavirus a year ago, Jenne said.

Data shows Alberta reported 4,213 COVID-19 cases and 37 deaths in September 2020. As the second wave worsened, stricter protocols were implemented, he explained.

That didn’t happen as quickly this time.

Alberta waited much longer to bring in the current restrictions — which are less strict than those in place last year — and there were more cases in the community before restrictions were put in place, he said.

Most COVID-19 restrictions were lifted July 1. As cases dwindled, Premier Jason Kenney said, “We finally have the upper hand on the virus,” and moved to reopen the economy.

Soon, the province began transitioning to its endemic response, planning to lift nearly all COVID-19 protocols on Aug. 16.

Public health experts warned against the move as the delta variant spread in other jurisdictions. The specific data behind the province’s decision still hasn’t been released publicly.

The plans were eventually delayed. Data shows more than 5,000 people contracted COVID-19 in the first two weeks of August.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, cited rising hospitalizations and delta variant cases in pediatric patients for the pause.

Alberta Health Services started postponing surgeries in late August, as hospitalizations increased. AHS announced more postponements in September because of the growing strain on the health system.

On Sept. 3, as known active cases reached 13,970, the province announced an indoor mask mandate and curfew on alcohol sales. It recommended unvaccinated people limit their close contacts and that employers pause return-to-work plans.

The province also announced it would pay $100 to people for getting vaccinated.

On Sept. 15, active cases reached 18,641. Kenney declared a public health emergency, introduced multiple public health measures, and announced a proof of vaccination program.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney apologized last month for how his government had handled the pandemic’s fourth wave up to that point. (JeffMcIntosh/The Canadian Press)

He also apologized for the government’s handling of the fourth wave.

Tyler Shandro later resigned as health minister on Sept. 21, and Jason Copping took over.

CBC News sought comment from Copping for this story, but did not receive a response.

Officials continue scrambling to create capacity in the health-care system. Pushed to the brink for weeks, hospitals may opt to transfer patients out of the province.

Alberta is waiting for medical personnel from the military, Canadian Red Cross and Newfoundland and Labrador to arrive, with the hope they’ll help boost ICU capacity.

The Alberta government has been adamantly opposed to introducing strict new measures, which some have described as a firebreak, despite the calls from many health professionals.

Model predicts 4th wave peak in mid-October

Independent projections by Dean Karlen, a physics professor at the University of Victoria and member of the B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group, suggests cases in Alberta could crest around mid-October.

Case counts are growing more slowly, likely due to public health measures and rising vaccine uptake, Karlen said.

“If constant behaviour is maintained, then one would expect a turnover in the coming weeks,” he said, noting the full impact of restrictions isn’t shown in the data yet.

Hospitalizations and ICU admissions will remain high, or rise, for the next week or two, Jenne said. They should start dropping as daily cases decrease.

Jenne suggests the key is for more Albertans to get vaccinated. In the short term, he said, they should consider being more cautious than the public health measures require, because those measures “are the bare minimum.”

Source From CBC News

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