Five weeks ago, Red Deer passed a frightening milestone when it topped 900 active COVID-19 cases.
Since then, case numbers have plummeted dramatically. On Tuesday, health officials reported 102 active cases for the city, a staggering turnaround that has many hoping a return to normalcy is in sight.
There was good news in other communities as well. On Tuesday, Edmonton’s active caseload fell below 500 for the first time since mid-August. Calgary was below 1,000 active cases for the first time since Oct. 20.
Last month, the picture was much gloomier. Fifteen months into the pandemic, Red Deer hit a peak of 911 cases on May 8 as the third wave rolled across Alberta.
It was a stunning number, considering the previous high — which remained a record for two months — happened on Feb. 23 when 574 cases were recorded in the city partly because of an outbreak at Olymel’s pork processing facility, where more than 550 workers would eventually be infected. The deaths of three workers and another person were connected to the outbreak.
Nearly two months to the day following the Feb. 24 peak, Red Deer hit 615 cases as the third wave took its toll. And the numbers continued to climb.
The government responded by re-introducing health restrictions and escalating vaccinations.
Nearly 3.4 million doses of vaccine have now been administered in Alberta. Sixty-nine per cent of Albertans have received at least one dose and 22 per cent are fully vaccinated.
“We’re getting close to the objective of 70 per cent,” said Dr. André Corriveau, deputy chief medical officer of health on Tuesday. Once the province has reached 70 per cent vaccination Stage 3 of Alberta’s reopening plan could kick in two weeks later.
Corriveau encouraged people to get their second dose when eligible and to follow health precautions, such as mask wearing, staying home when sick as well as other measures.
For now, health officials are recommending that people limit travel to necessary trips. “We’re still asking people to abide by the current measures just a couple more weeks longer if possible because this is where we need to be.”
If Albertans get their second doses quickly enough, a significant fourth wave, possibly led by the highly contagious Delta variant, can likely be avoided.
Corriveau said health officials are “certainly very concerned about the Delta variant and where it might go” and health officials continue to watch it closely.
The Delta variant can be transmitted more quickly than other variants but Corriveau feels its spread can be managed and two vaccine doses are effective against it.
“We feel we have the capacity because the numbers are still low to contain this while people are moving on to their second dose.”
He said while Delta is highly contagious and could become the dominant variant, the danger would be far less compared to a major outbreak if infection numbers remain low.