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Hi everyone, Mark Iype in Edmonton today.

For so many, the fall is the start of something. Kids heading back to school. Governments restarting legislatures. And of course, the return of cold and flu season.

Respiratory illnesses make a comeback every year at this time, and 2023 is no different. Most of us know someone who has the sniffles these days, and temperatures haven’t even started to drop much yet.

But for the fourth year in a row, COVID is the infection looming over our shoulders.

This week, both Alberta and British Columbia rolled out their vaccination plans for influenza and COVID. In B.C., residents can start booking appointments on Oct. 3 to get the flu vaccine and the new iteration of the COVID-19 vaccine. In Alberta, you can start booking a week later, on Oct. 10.

And while the pandemic feels as though it’s in the rearview mirror, respiratory illnesses, including COVID, are still very much circulating.

Health officials in B.C. have taken the proactive step of reinstituting mask mandates at health care settings throughout the province as cases of flu, COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses rise.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday that masks are mandatory for all health care workers, volunteers and visitors in patient-care areas starting Oct. 3 to protect those who are most vulnerable.

“It’s important, as we have more infections in the community, that we do what we need to do to protect those people who are most at risk of having severe illness and frankly dying from influenza, from COVID, from RSV,” Henry said.

Studies have shown that as much as 80 per cent of the province’s population has been infected by the virus at least once, creating some levels of immunity, particularly when combined with the vaccination.

Henry said boosters are important because the new COVID-19 and flu vaccines are tailored to the specific viruses expected to circulate this season.

Across the border in Alberta, Premier Danielle Smith and Health Minister Adriana LaGrange gave less than a full-throated push for the COVID-19 vaccine.

When asked Wednesday if she would get the vaccine, Smith said:

“Look, I’m a healthy person, I tend to take care of my immune system,” she said at a news conference to update Albertans on the E. coli situation in Calgary.

When LaGrange was asked the same question, she mirrored the premier’s response.

“I’m very healthy as well. I have a very healthy immune system. And you know what? I also believe that this is a personal decision for individuals to make. I will look at that as time progresses and what my journey is,” LaGrange said.

On Thursday, the province announced the most recent data on respiratory illnesses in the first three weeks of September.

Between Sept. 3 and 23, there were 21 confirmed cases of RSV and 52 cases of influenza. For COVID-19, there were a total of 1,470 confirmed cases that resulted in 286 hospitalizations, with 13 ICU admissions. Twenty Albertans died during that three-week period because of COVID.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief Mark Iype. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.

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