Alberta has surpassed more than 100 new daily COVID-19 infections for the first time in more than two months, but the province’s top doctor said the spike, while worrying, does not warrant another shutdown.
“I think that we can manage a sustainable number of cases going forward as long as we have the ability to do rapid contact tracing, control outbreaks,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer, said Thursday.
Alberta reported a jump to 120 new infections on Thursday – the highest number since May 2 – after a five-day stretch in the 80s and 90s.
A month ago, when some restrictions of businesses and gatherings eased, new daily cases hovered in the 30s and 40s.
Sixty-nine people were in hospital and eight were in intensive care as of Thursday. There were two more deaths, bringing the provincial total to 165.
Despite the upward trend, Alberta is allowing more flexibility in care home visits in order to improve the residents’ quality of life.
It is also allowing indoor exhibits and trade shows, outdoor vocal and wind instrument concerts and outdoor hot-tubs and whirlpools.
Hinshaw said those activities are believed to be relatively low-risk and that the biggest problem is social gatherings where people are not adhering to physical distancing guidelines.
Most new cases have been cropping up in people under 40. A large proportion have no known source.
Hinshaw added that a few months ago new cases had, on average, six close contacts. Now, many have 15 to 20.
“I think this is a reflection of many people feeling that they’re tired of the restrictions. They don’t want to be held back any more from interacting socially with their friends, from doing the things that they enjoy.”
Hinshaw added that a sustained increase in hospitalizations and a squeeze on ICU capacity would trigger a return to previous restrictions.
Public health officials may also take into account the trend in daily case numbers and the “R-value,” a measure of the average number of infections each case causes. As of Monday, Alberta’s R-value was at 1.15, meaning the virus is growing.
“We’re not looking at going backward at this point in time,” Hinshaw said.
“We are still currently at a level that we can manage the number of new cases.”
Experts agreed that it’s not the guidelines themselves that are the issue, but that people aren’t following them.
“The sense I get is that the public has heard that we’re reopening, but they don’t necessarily hear the rest of it, which is that we’re reopening with restrictions,” said Dr. Stephanie Smith, director of infection prevention and control at the University of Alberta Hospital.
Dr. Christopher Mody, who heads the University of Calgary’s department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases, said a stricter approach may create an “us-against-them” mentality amongst the public and would be difficult to enforce.
“One of the things I think we can do a little bit better job of is saying that we can go to Stage 3 quicker if everybody adheres to the Stage 2 guidelines.”
Dr. Ameeta Singh, an infectious diseases specialist at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital and University of Alberta clinical professor, wants to see masks made mandatory in indoor spaces.
But even then, she acknowledges not everyone will comply.
Singh said she understands that everyone is feeling “fed up.”
“It’s not normal for human beings to have to wear masks the whole time and to distance from each other,” she said.
“This is definitely not fun for any of us. But somehow we all need to find a way to hang in there.”