Alberta reported 273 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday after completing 6,100 tests, bringing the positivity rate in the province to 4.5 per cent.

Sixteen new deaths were reported, but Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said many of the deaths were from December, and were just recently identified post-mortem as being from COVID-19.

There are 324 Albertans in hospital due to COVID-19, 53 of them are in the ICU.

REOPENING TIMELINE

Alberta's R (reproductive) value currently sits at 1.03.

“Anytime that our reproductive number is greater than one, it means our cases are rising,” Hinshaw said Monday.

“With that in mind, we will be taking the full three weeks to assess the data, and assess the best way forward. No decisions on moving to Step 2 will be made prior to March 1.”

A COVID-19 biostatistician tracking coronavirus in the province speculated the uptick in spread could be due to Alberta taking the first step toward reopening on Feb. 8. 

"This is two weeks following that. typically what happens is we start to see case numbers increase approximately 10 days following any reopening if there are any negative effects to it," commented Ryan Imgrund. 

He noted both the Edmonton and Calgary zones have an R value lower than the province does, while the north and central regions have a higher R value, suggesting Alberta should follow some other provinces in adopting a regional approach to reopening. That method, he said, would curb spread in areas it is spreading the quickest -- but could drive people to travel outside of their region, like they did in his own province. 

"We had a regional approach here in Ontario... What we are seeing is the exact same situation: If you reopen in one area and you don't in others, you inevitably see people travel." 

Hinhaw said the province would make good on its promise to give businesses a week to prepare before the restrictions are lifted.

“Businesses should be planning for a reopening as early as the following week,” she said.

But Imgrund believes Alberta Health should take action immediately. 

"Once that reproductive value gets above one, you need to implement immediate changes," he said.

"If you do not, those cases will continue to grow and simply putting it off into the future means that when inevitably there will be a lockdown again, it's going to have to be in effect for that much longer." 

Under Step 2 of the province’s reopening plan, restrictions would ease on retail, banquet halls, community halls, conference centres, hotels and more restrictions would be eased on indoor fitness facilities and children’s sports.

Among other metrics, there must be fewer than 450 people in hospital with COVID-19 before the province proceeds to Step 2.

 VACCINE ROLLOUT

As of Monday, 173,000 Albertans have received a COVID-19 vaccine and 69,000 have been fully immunized.

As part of the Phase 1B vaccine rollout, vaccines will next be offered to Albertans aged 75 and older starting Wednesday.

The country will receive a record 640,000 doses between Moderna and Pfizer deliveries this week. Just under 70,000 of those will head to Alberta.