'It'll crash tremendously': Alberta now leads Canada and U.S. in per capita COVID-19 cases

Alberta is now reporting the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita in all of Canada and the United States.

According to CTVNews.ca's tracker, there have been an average of 440.5 daily cases per million people in the last seven days, more than any other province or territory in Canada as well as every U.S. state. Cases had been trending upward since March and continue to climb.

The province broke its daily COVID-19 record for the third day in a row on Saturday when it reported 2,433 new infections. On Sunday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, said there were 1,731 new cases. On Monday, the province reported 2,012 new cases.

Michigan had previously been North America's COVID-19 hotspot of this third wave, peaking at a seven-day average of more than 783 daily cases per million in mid-April. Since then, cases have been falling. As of Monday, the state ranks second with 405.9 average daily cases per million.

It's a worrying trend, Dr. Christine Gibson, a Calgary-based family physician told CTV News Channel on Monday.

Health policy expert Dr. Lorian Hardcastle, who is an associate professor at the University of Calgary's faculty of law and the Cumming School of Medicine, agrees.

"We also see a premier who within his own party is being heavily criticized, and he's trying to appeal to both people who want more restrictions and appease to his political base, and in doing so is undermining the measures themselves," Hardcastle told CTV's Your Morning on Tuesday. 

"We're currently the highest number of cases per capita, so when the health system crashes, it'll crash tremendously," said Gibson.

On Sunday, the province also reported 155 ICU admissions, up from the high of 152 set on Friday.

"I mean, the system is already strained, there are certain regions where (ICUs) are full. I'm hearing from my colleagues in the hospital that they are admitting young people already," Gibson said.

Dr. Noel Gibney, who is the co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association's pandemic committee, says the provincial government's mixed messaging is to blame for Alberta's explosion in COVID-19 cases.

"I believe we're here because our government hasn't taken the necessary steps that the messaging (and) that we've received is mixed. On one day the premier is suggesting that lockdowns don't work and the next day, suggests that we're going to have to bring in new targeted public health restrictions," Gibney told CTV News Channel on Monday.

Last Thursday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced new restrictions for hot-spot zones in the province that shut down indoor fitness and moved all middle and high schools to online-only learning.

Despite the high number of cases, Alberta's public health restrictions have been much looser than other provinces such as Ontario, which has reported an average of 243.1 daily cases per million. Unlike in Ontario, there has not been a stay-at-home order issued anywhere in the province. In-person retail shopping and restaurant patios have also been permitted to open.

"We need to focus on elimination rather than mitigation of the virus because it keeps popping up, and it's going to continue to do so until we have very, very strict measures," said Gibson. "We've never had a lockdown in Alberta. In fact, right now our restrictions are quite minimal compared to other regions, and we really need to step up and say that we want to take this seriously and go to zero (cases)."

The relatively loose restrictions were still too much for the thousands who attended the "No More Lockdowns" rodeo near Bowden, Alta. on Sunday.

"I'm just profoundly disappointed and concerned, and that even though it's outside with most people unmasked, this has the potential to accelerate the spread," said Gibney, when asked about the rodeo.

Hardcastle says part of this pushback can be explained by what she calls a more "libertarian political culture" in the province.

"We see (this) in Alberta to a greater extent than in other jurisdictions where individuals who zealously guard their individual rights and resist high levels of government, what they see is government interference in their daily lives," she said.

Kenney is set to announce new restrictions on Tuesday. Hardcastle expects to see more business restrictions and closures, as well as more enforcement of health measures.

"(Kenney's) been speaking apparently to the Minister of Justice and so I think what we could see are some efforts to bolster enforcement in Alberta, which has been one of the major problems here," Hardcastle said. "And as for whether it will be effective, I would say it would depend on whether that enforcement actually happens," she continued.

If the province doesn't enact stronger measures similar to the ones that were enacted during the first wave of the pandemic last year, Gibney expects the number of new cases to double in the near future.

"There's no question that until strong measures are brought in, that the rates are going to increase exponentially. And we can expect a doubling of our cases over the next two to three weeks," Gibney said.