MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY - Driven by the Delta variant, the trajectory of the fourth wave of the pandemic has changed prompting renewed public health measures and pleas for people to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
As of Sept. 4, masks were made mandatory in indoor settings - excluding schools - and licensed establishments are required to cease alcohol sales by 10 p.m. Surgeries are also being postponed in all health regions.
Minister of Health Tyler Shandro and Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw are expected to announce steps today (Sept. 9) to reduce pressure on hospitals and provide an update on COVID 19. A press conference has been scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Dr. Verna Yiu, president and chief executive officer of Alberta Health Services will also be a participant in the press conference.
Not only are the number of cases increasing in the province, new cases in central Alberta region are coming close to rivaling the third wave which hits its peak in the area in May. Between Aug. 2 and Aug. 31, there were 87 new cases in the Didsbury local geographic area, 108 in the Olds local geographic area, 45 in the Sundre area and 87 in the Innisfail local geographic area. That compares to 72, 92, 36 and 137 new cases respectively during the height of the third wave in the region between May 1 and May 30.
Hospital admissions for people with COVID-19 have increased, said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, adding "it is clear that we are at risk of exceeding our province’s ICU capacity if we do not make changes to our approach now."
During a news conference on Sept. 3, Premier Jason Kenney said COVID-19 is once again surging and later called the latest wave a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
“For the love of God, please get vaccinated now,” he said after presenting numbers highlighting how the vast majority of patients in ICU are not immunized.
“The Delta variant is ripping through this group.”
All approved vaccines are safe, effective and will help prevent serious illness, emphasized public health officials.
Just ask Mountain View County resident David Doyle.
Doyle, a local realtor who recently officially declared his intention to run for Mountain View County council, is among the many to have tested positive over the past month.
The 41-year-old was self-isolating at home after testing positive for COVID-19 when he spoke with The Albertan about his bid for the county council’s District 7 seat in the upcoming municipal election.
“It feels like a brutal head cold and aches and pains,” Doyle said candidly through congestion during the Wednesday, Sept. 1 interview.
“Even though I’m double vaccinated, it still hit me like a ton of bricks,” he said.
But recognizing his health outcome might well have been much worse as the fourth wave driven primarily by the more contagious Delta variant has seen ICUs occupied all but exclusively by unvaccinated Albertans, he expressed no regrets about getting immunized.
“I’m thankful, because if I hadn’t had that vaccination and that little bit of immunity built up, I couldn’t imagine what I’d be going through right now.”
Seniors housing outbreaks
Area seniors housing facilities have also not made it through the latest wave unscathed. Alberta Health Services added Sunset Manor in Innisfail to the list of outbreaks last week.
Two of four Mountain View Seniors’ Housing (MVSH) facilities have also had cases this month.
“We’ve only had mild cases — that’s a good sign,” said Sam Smalldon, MVSH chief administrative officer.
On Aug. 20, a resident at the Sundre Seniors Supportive Living centre tested positive, followed by another confirmed case that was reported on Aug. 30 at the Chinook Winds Lodge in Carstairs.
“Those were the two cases that started the outbreaks at each of those sites,” said Smalldon.
“They’re officially called outbreaks when you have a positive in a seniors’ congregate supportive living,” he said.
Fortunately, no cases had been reported in either Olds or Didsbury as of the time Smalldon spoke with The Albertan late last week .
In Sundre and Carstairs, the facilities re-introduced a restriction to designated visitors only, he said.
“And basically that’s the major change. All of the other major protocols have been maintained. In other words, they were not lifted, so we didn’t have to reapply them,” he said.
As a result of the confirmed cases, he said the remaining residents and staff at both affected facilities were all subsequently tested over a period of a week to 10 days after the positive test result was discovered.
“They go through a series of swabbings. There’s an initial swabbing and testing of all staff and all residents, and then there’s sometimes a round two and sometimes a round three depending on the medical officer of health’s oversight,” he said.
“These things take time, and they don’t show up all at once or immediately. They do it at periods of intervals to try and catch any new occurrences, if there are any.”
In April, Bethany Care Society took over the contract only for health-care delivery at the centres in Olds, Didsbury and Sundre, while the fourth site in Carstairs remains under Alberta Health Services, he said.
Asked what stance the society and MVSH have taken regarding mandatory staff vaccinations in light of AHS’ recent decision to go in that direction, Smalldon said the former introduced such a policy in May while the latter followed suit in August, predating the provincial health authority’s announcement.
“Our prevention method of risk management has been to be proactive, not wait until we’re told to do the things that we feel are the right things to do,” he said.
The policies introduced by the society and MVSH have always applied to both existing employees as well as newly hired staff, he said.
But the policies do outline procedures to consider requested exemptions on a case-by-case basis.
“There are provisions in both policies by Bethany and Mountain View Seniors' Housing for accommodations for medical and or religious reasons,” he said.
“We’re in the process of dealing with requests and our policy lays out how to address those. I can’t really comment on how many — there are several. But they’re all being considered in fair light of what is religious and or medical accommodation.”
That being said, Smalldon was able to confirm that the total percentage of all MVSH staff at their four facilities as well as the head office in Olds, is 77 per cent.
“That varies by site. But that’s the overall average,” he said, adding he couldn’t speak to the society’s numbers.
Vaccines, he added, are a crucial factor in the equation to protect residents, staff and the public.
“If people ask what they can do to help us take care of the seniors and staff at the sites, it’s for them to get vaccinated. It’s our major risk right now, is unvaccinated community members,” he said.
“We just encourage everyone to get vaccinated. Please.”