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St. Albert council hears COVID-19 update following newly announced provincial health measures

The meeting was originally called to discuss a municipal mask mandate. Hours before, Alberta’s premier announced, effective Sept. 4, masking will be mandatory in indoor public spaces province-wide.

St. Albert city council met for a COVID-19 update from city staff and an Alberta health official this afternoon. 

While the meeting agenda originally included a bylaw to reinstate a municipal mask mandate, things changed course after an 11:30 a.m. provincial announcement on updated health measures. 

In the announcement, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro declared masks will be mandated in all indoor public spaces beginning Sept. 4 at 8 a.m. An official public-health order detailing how the mandate will be enforced has not been released. 

Percy Janke, St. Albert director of emergency management, opened the council meeting on Friday, Sept. 3 with a presentation on the state of the pandemic in St. Albert. 

Janke noted St. Albert is currently at 131 active COVID-19 cases, or 186.8 per 100,000 people, up from a low of one case on July 15. Comparatively, Sturgeon County is at 119 active cases, or 422.5 per 100,000, and Spruce Grove at 131 active cases for 347.2 per 100,000 people. 

While provincial data said Albertans have reached 70-per-cent second-dose vaccine coverage of those who are eligible over 12, Janke noted St. Albert’s vaccination rate is higher, at 81.1-per-cent. 

Severity of cases among St. Albertans uncertain

Provincially, Janke said Alberta health data indicates COVID-19 patients account for 52.5-per-cent of Alberta’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity. Non-COVID-19 patients account for 38.6-per-cent, and unoccupied beds sit at 8.9-per-cent capacity. 

Coun. Jacquie Hansen asked whether there is data on how many of St. Albert’s 131 active COVID-19 cases are currently hospitalized or in the ICU. 

“How is our Sturgeon Hospital doing? Do we have those from outside St. Albert there?” Hansen asked. 

Dr. Chris Sikora, lead medical officer of health for the Edmonton Zone, said he couldn’t speak to specifically how many St. Albert residents are in a critical-care environment. 

"From a health-care system response perspective, we always consider our critical-care resources — as in our ICU beds, and then our inpatient beds — to be regional resources,” Sikora said. “If somebody needs a bed and they happen to reside in Beaumont, they might go to any number of different facilities.”

While Sikora didn’t have data on St. Albert resident COVID-19 hospitalization, he noted across Alberta, those who have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 are predominantly under-immunized, and Alberta is seeing much more community spread. 

“Individuals are acquiring COVID-19 not necessarily through transmission within the household environment, but by means of being out in the general public,” Sikora said. 

Mayor Cathy Heron posed a question about the 12-and-under population. 

“I’ve heard there are at least a couple children in the hospital who are not vaccinated,” Heron said. “Are you seeing any trends for that younger age group?”

Sikora said he doesn’t believe Alberta has registered any deaths in that age group, but if young children do get infected, they may transmit the illness to other people.

“We’ll continue to monitor the health of our young population … and strive to continue to provide the high-quality health service that we have across the Edmonton zone,” Sikora said. 

Coun. Wes Brodhead asked when the COVID-19 vaccine might be available for those under 12. 

“How close are we to a vaccination for those children?” Brodhead said. 

Sikora said he can’t give a particular time-frame for when Health Canada might approve the vaccines. 

“I know within our Alberta context, we are expecting an approval at some point and have already given thought to how we would implement this within the greater Alberta environment,” Sikora said. 

Heron closed the meeting by addressing the public. 

“This weekend might be confusing, so I would just ask that while we allow our staff the time to sift through whatever orders come out in the next couple of days, we are respectful of staff at the city of St. Albert," Heron said. "I ask for patience, because everyone is struggling with this at different levels, so let’s try to show the world how great St. Albert can be.”

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