Covid-19: 2021 pandemic in review

Calgary and Alberta from January to December in Covid-19 News

Vaccinations are being rolled out by the province of Alberta. ALBERTA HEALTH SERVICES

Although there are far too many stories to relay over the last year of the pandemic in a single review, here are some of the top 2021 Covid-19 stories that affected Calgarians.

January

Cumulative Covid-19 cases to date in Alberta: 104,161

Second wave of Covid-19 decreasing

January begins with Albertans furious at UCP MLAs and political staffers having traveled abroad over the holidays. Minister of Health Tyler Shandro, and the new Minister for Municipal Affairs Ric McIver said they were angry too. The pair apologized on behalf of the government, and thanked Albertans for expressing their outrage. Tracy Allard, then Minister of Municipal Affairs, resigned from cabinet after her trip to Hawaii was reported upon.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health, announces that the Beta variant was detected in Alberta. This would be the first case of Beta in Canada, after its initial discovery in South Africa in December of 2020.

Pfizer shipments to Canada are briefly cut in half as the pharmaceutical company upgrades its Belgium plant. Dr. Hinshaw stated that the province had received a sufficient supply of Moderna to fulfill second doses for seniors who had received their first shots in 2020. The province briefly put a hold on first doses, with Minister of Health Tyler Shandro placing blame on the federal government.

Students return to in-person learning in mid-January, after the province moved classes online at the end of November 2020.

The Calgary Zoo places extra precautions on their gorilla troupe after a pair of San Diego Zoo gorillas are identified to have contracted Covid-19. Yewande, a 12-year-old member of the troupe has her contact with zoo staff limited due to her pregnancy.

In late January, GraceLife Church near Edmonton defies an AHS order to close after violating provincial public health orders. The defiance would spark months of international attention on the church, and on Pastor James Coates.

On Jan. 28, Darwin Doloque dies from a Covid-19 outbreak at the Olymel meat processing plant.

At the end of January, a number of provincial public health orders were lifted, allowing Albertans to return to gyms and restaurants. The federal government begins new restrictions on flights, suspending service to Mexico and the Caribbean. The Calgary International Airport is one of only four in the nation that are able to accept international flights.

February

Cumulative Covid-19 cases to date in Alberta: 124,673

Second Wave ends

Mayor Naheed Nenshi expressed concern over the province's loosening of public health orders, stating that decreased testing rates were an issue. While he said he was "cautiously optimistic," he was worried that businesses would have to close again if cases were to rise.

Cases of the Alpha variant, first detected in December 2020 in Alberta after first being detected in the United Kingdom, begin to ramp up. A handful of close contacts from travellers abroad were identified in Calgary schools, with at least one confirmed case at Henry Wise Wood.

UCP MLAs Angela Pitt and Drew Barnes call for the government to end public health restrictions, joining the End the Lockdowns national caucus. Barnes, an MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat made the claim that the mental health damage from the province's public health measures was at least equal to the damage from Covid-19.

The federal and provincial governments announced a one-time payment of $1,200 to front-line workers in the public and private sectors. Alberta planned to contribute $118 million to the program, and the federal government $354 million.

The testing pilot project at the Calgary International Airport for incoming travellers is suspended as the federal government announces new pre-test travel requirements and quarantine at designated hotels. A Calgary lawyer challenges the quarantine requirements after having to stay at a hotel instead of his family home.

In mid-February, the Olymel meat processing plant closes after management said they could no longer operate the plant safely. By this point during the outbreak, 343 cases had been identified, with 561 being identified at the plant by the time the outbreak ended in June. Three plant workers would die as a result of the outbreak.

Protests against public health restrictions in Alberta grow. One group, calling itself March for Freedom, gathered in Edmonton and Calgary carrying tiki-torches and Trump 2020 flags, calling for an end to restrictions, vaccinations, and testing for Covid-19. The protests were condemned by Premier Kenney and Mayor Nenshi.

Health Canada approves the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in Canada.

Neat the end of February, Calgary's Fairview Baptist Church held a full service in defiance of the province's 15 per cent occupancy limit on gatherings, in support of the Grace Life Church. The RCMP said they continued their investigation into Grace Life Church as they continued to defy AHS orders.

Grace Life Church pastor James Coates was arrested for violating Alberta's Public Health Act, and was subsequently jailed for breaking a promise to abide by conditions of his bail release. The trial was set for May.

In late February, the province opens vaccinations to all Albertans aged 75 and older. Previously vaccinations had been offered to those in care facilities, and the province announced that the majority of those residents had been able to receive their second dose.

March

Cumulative Covid-19 cases to date in Alberta: 133,959

Third Wave begins

Alberta commemorates a year of the pandemic, after the first case of Covid-19 arrived in the province during March 2020.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunizations ceases to recommend the AstraZeneca vaccine for Canadians aged 65 and older. Minister of Health Tyler Shandro said that Alberta would follow NACI's advice, potentially delaying phase two of the vaccine rollout.

Governments worldwide suspend the use of AstraZeneca after reports of blood clots among patients leads to concern by health authorities. By late March, Alberta suspended its use of the vaccine in those under the age of 55 despite no reports of similar symptoms in Canada. Dr. Hinshaw said that this to give Health Canada time to further evaluate the vaccine.

Fairview Baptist Church is ticketed again by the City of Calgary after they continue to breach the Public Health Act. Pastor Tim Stevens said his congregation will continue to hold services in excess of the 15 per cent fire code capacity limit, stating they had religious reasons to do so.

The federal government joined its G7 partners in discussing vaccine passports for international travel.

Minister of Health Tyler Shandro announced that the province would be giving 325,000 rapid testing kits to the oil and gas sector, 76,000 to WestJet, and 56,000 tests for workers in the banking, telecommunications, and transportation sectors. Rapid tests would also be made available for workers at the Cargill meat processing plant.

The province announced that a rapid testing pilot program would be launched in schools, starting in late March, and consisting of 100,000 test kits.

Joey's Eau Claire joined a small number of restaurants with outbreaks in Alberta, after an outbreak at that location led to over 30 cases. The restaurant voluntarily closed a week after the outbreak was declared by AHS.

April

Cumulative Covid-19 cases to date in Alberta: 150,145

Third Wave continues

April begins with significant numbers of students and teachers in isolation. More than 13,000 students and 700 teachers in both the public board and the separate board were affected. Current Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott, who was a teacher at Western Canada High School, was one of the teachers affected.

The Telus Convention Centre in downtown Calgary opened as a vaccination site for Calgarians. The City of Calgary would offer free parking for anyone getting their shot at that location.

Alberta re-introduces public health restrictions on indoor dining, social gatherings, and group fitness classes. Some Calgary businesses vowed to stay open, despite the restrictions meant to stop rising cases in the province.

UCP MLAs, including the speaker of the legislature, challenged the province's public health restrictions in a signed letter to the Premier. Kenney said he would remove members from caucus if they break Covid-19 rules or encourage others to do so.

Alberta ICU doctors call for an immediate lock-down to stop surging numbers of patients in the hospital sick with Covid-19.

A fence was erected around Grace Life Church, with AHS saying that the church would remain closed until it could demonstrate the ability to comply with public health orders. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms represented the church in court.

The province announces that Grades 7 through 12 will be receiving rapid testing kits in an expansion of the in-school rapid testing pilot program.

Covid cases inside the world men's curling championship in Calgary put that event on hold. The bubble had been free of cases during February for the Canadian women's championship, Canadian men's championship, and Canadian mixed doubles championship.

The Government of Canada stops flights to India and Pakistan after travel from those nations resulted in Delta variant cases in Alberta, B.C., and Quebec. Delta, first identified in late 2020 in India, would slowly grow in Alberta throughout the month of April.

An Albertan infected with the Beta variant leads to an outbreak and subsequent closing of the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort.

Sarah Strate, a 17-year old from Magrath, Alberta dies after displaying Covid symptoms. Strate's older sister had tested positive for the disease, but Strate did not. Her family maintained that she died from Covid-19.

In late April, after the number of Covid cases in the City of Calgary exceeded the second wave, Mayor Nenshi calls on Calgarians to stop flaunting masking guidelines set forth by the city.

April ended with the No More Lockdowns Rodeo held near Bowden, Alberta. The Foothills Cowboys Association and the Wildrose Rodeo Association distanced themselves from the event, and the town of Bowden pulled their agricultural permit for the rodeo to be held. Premier Jason Kenney said he was angered and saddened that the event went ahead.

May

Cumulative Covid-19 cases to date in Alberta: 194,405

Third Wave reaches its peak, starts to decline

May began with an announcement by Alberta Precision Laboratories that they would be scaling back variant-of-concern testing. The laboratory indicated that it would only screen positive cases from specific high-risk population groups in the province.

Grace Life Church pastor James Coates goes on trial. After two days of arguments, the judge presiding over the trial adjourned proceedings until June.

Pastors Artur Pawlowski and Peter Reicher of the Calgary Street Church are given until May 9 to come into compliance with public health orders. A court order would be obtained by Alberta Health Services to enforce the mandatory public health orders in place in Alberta. Artur and David Pawlowski were arrested by Calgary Police after breaching that court order.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi calls on the court system to stop dropping tickets given to Calgarians for breaking public health orders. He criticized those not following the law and the Premier for giving conflicting messages on restrictions.

An Albertan woman in her 50s dies of a rare blood clot linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine, one of only two deaths in the nation. Some 1.7 million doses of that brand of vaccine had been administered across Canada.

The province added new public health measures designed to curb the third wave. Restrictions on retail, outdoor gatherings including on patios were added. All classes from K through 12 were transitioned online until near the end of May. Post-secondary classes were also shifted online.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered financial support to Calgary and Edmonton after speaking to the mayors of those cities.

Restaurateurs asked for financial support from the city and the province after outdoor patios were added to the list of restrictions.

Phase three vaccinations opened in Alberta, with all Albertans aged 12 and over being able to receive a dose. Premier Jason Kenney announced on social media that over 100,000 had signed up online to get their vaccination. Some of the doses in other parts of the province were re-directed to Calgary to meet the level of bookings in the city.

After future shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine dried up in mid-May, the province ceases to use the remaining supply for first doses. The province said that they would use the remaining quantities for use as second doses for those Albertans who received AstraZeneca. Global supply of the version of the vaccine used in Alberta, and made in India, dropped sharply as that nation underwent a severe wave of cases.

In mid-May, Minister of Justice Kaycee Madu apologized for comments he made on social media that claimed the provincial NDP and the federal Liberal Party wanted Alberta's health care system to collapse. The Prime Minister called the comments shameful.

Fairview Baptist Church is ordered closed by AHS for failing to comply with public health orders. Pastor Tim Stephens was arrested for organizing the services that allegedly failed to comply with the law. AHS dropped their contempt of court application against Stephens in late May.

Calgary mayoral Candidate Kevin J. Johnson is arrested twice during the month. Calgary Police and Edmonton Police arrested the far-right social media personality from Mississauga, Ontario after he was found to have attended illegal gatherings. Alberta Health Services received a restraining order against Johnson after he threatened AHS employees online.

Hundreds of Albertans travel south to the border to receive vaccinations from the Blackfeet tribe in Montana. The generous cross-border vaccination program was initially approved by both the United States and Canadian governments. By the end of May it was cancelled, due to what the tribe called government bureaucracy by both Canada and the U.S. Canadians re-entering the nation after getting their shots were subject to the mandatory 14 day quarantine period.

Near the end of May, the province announced that Calgarians living in the northeast would be able to get vaccinated via drive-through clinics. The Calgary Emergency Management Agency had raised concerns about the growing disparity in the vaccination rates in northeast communities versus other parts of the city. Then Coun. Jyoti Gondek said that this would be essential to protecting workers in service industries, many of whom live in northeast Calgary.

June

Cumulative Covid-19 cases to date in Alberta: 227,912

Third wave declines

June begins with photos Jason Kenney, cabinet ministers, and political staff eating on the Skypalace rooftop patio. Critics contend that those involve broke Covid restrictions, the Premier's office maintains they did not. A twitter augment involving the Premier's executive director of issues management Matt Wolf ended with him uttering the now infamous phrase "The pandemic is ending. Accept it."

The Alberta government launched a vaccine lottery to spur falling vaccination rates in the province. A $1 million dollar prize was on offer once the province reached 70 per cent first dose vaccination for all Albertans aged 12 and over.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw announces that she will be ending regular Covid briefings. 

Minister of Finance Travis Towes delivered the final 2020-2021 fiscal report, showing that Alberta had spent more than $5 billion by March on the pandemic.

The second phase of the Alberta's $1,200 critical worker benefit program began.

In mid-June, Premier Jason Kenney said that stage 3 of the province's plan to lift public health restrictions will go ahead. The province calls this the Open For Summer plan. The plan is widely criticized by health experts who predict a fourth wave from growing Delta variant cases.

In mid-June, Premier Jason Kenney calls a predicted fourth wave spurred on by growing Delta cases in Alberta, "fearmongering." The Premier's communication staff go on the offense, claiming that the media wants to scare Albertans and keep restrictions going.

At the end of June, Artur Pawlowski and the Calgary Street Church were found in contempt of breaching a Gates Order that would have allowed Alberta Health Services to inspect that the church was following public health orders.

At the end of June, the province predicted a normal return to school planned for September. They stated that the pandemic measures put into place during the 2020-2021 school year would not be necessary, as it would be unlikely that any scenarios in which they would be used would occur. Tens of thousands of Albertan school aged children, teachers, parents, and family members were affected by repeated outbreaks in schools.

July

Cumulative Covid-19 cases to date in Alberta: 231,939

Third wave ends, Fourth Wave begins

July began with the province lifting most of its public health restrictions.

Minister of Health Tyler Shandro and his family are harassed by anti-restriction protestors at a Canada Day parade. Protestors called for Shandro to be "locked up," and called him a "war criminal" for implementing public health measures throughout the pandemic.

Calgary council rescinded its mask bylaw in early July after city administration recommended the bylaw be removed. At that time they believed that case trends, hospitalizations, and other metrics were improving.

The province removed their school outbreak map of Covid outbreaks, stating that in-school outbreaks would be investigated the same as all other types of outbreaks going forward.

Alberta's Minister of Health Tyler Shandro defended the loosening of restrictions in the province, saying they were the inevitable next step. Close contacts would no longer require to isolate, and testing would be limited to people who need to go to the hospital or see a doctor. The province mulls removing the mask mandate in buses, taxis, or ride shares starting in August.

The province said that rising vaccination numbers would allow the pandemic to move to an endemic stage.

Premier Jason Kenney stated that Alberta would not be joining other provinces in creating a vaccine passport system.

Albertans watched to see if the Calgary Stampede would proceed as planned, and as a model for future mass gatherings. Some health experts questioned holding the event, and prominent sponsors distance themselves for 2021. By August, at least 129 people would be identified to have contracted Covid during the 10 days.

Protests erupt over two weeks in Calgary and Edmonton as doctors, medical professionals, and the public demand the return of "test, trace, isolate." The protests would ultimately spur the creation of activist medical group Protect Our Province, which would go on to provide their own public health briefings to Albertans. The model would eventually spread to other provinces in Canada.

August

Cumulative Covid-19 cases to date in Alberta: 234,802

Fourth Wave rises

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw apologizes to the public in early August over the anger caused by an opinion article she wrote about lifting public health measures. She said that lifting testing, and contact tracing would allow the province to focus health resources on opioid overdoses and syphilis outbreaks.

In mid-August, the province rolls back plans to end testing, tracing, and isolation. The province would ultimately also roll back plans to end masking on public transportation and in schools.

In late August, Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra called for an emergency management meeting to discuss rising cases in the city. The committee last met in May.

The province officially acknowledged the fourth wave during the fiscal update by Finance Minister Travis Toews.

Alberta livestock feed stores stop selling ivermectin—a dewormer—to the public after internet based conspiracy theorists tout the medicine as a cure for Covid. Over a dozen people contact the province's poison control after being poisoned by doses meant for livestock.

Universities hold mass vaccination clinics in preparation for the upcoming school year.

The Calgary Flames and Stampeders announced that they would be requiring proof of vaccination to attend games starting in September.

At the end of August, Alberta Health Services announced it will mandate Covid-19 vaccination for all AHS physicians, staff, and contract employees.

September

Cumulative Covid-19 cases to date in Alberta: 255,392

Fourth Wave peaks

September begins with the City of Calgary reinstating a state of local emergency. The mandatory masking bylaw returned as well.

Premier Jason Kenney announces the province’s Restrictions Exemption Program, creating a province-wide vaccine passport system for businesses. This followed re-introduced health measures such as mandatory masking, limits on indoor social gatherings, and encouragements to allow employers to let workers work from home.

Calgary City Council passes a vaccine passport bylaw, making the province's REP mandatory in the city.

The City of Calgary announced their Covid safe plans for the municipal election, which included mandatory masking, separate entrances and exits, and curbside voting options.

The City of Calgary, the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, and Alberta Health Services launched mobile vaccination clinics for Calgarians.

Council looked at providing the remaining $6 million in leftover reopening support funds to Calgary small- and medium-sized businesses.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi sparred with Foothills County Reeve Suzanne Oel over her vaccine misinformation shared during a meeting of the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board.

Calgary born Paul Brandt made headlines after controversially saying he did not need to be vaccinated as he had already contracted Covid earlier in the pandemic. Alberta doctors were quick to condemn the statement as misinformation, and called on the country music star to get vaccinated.

The province announced it was looking at changes to its back-to-school plans. Harsh criticism from the public about the changes to the way contact tracing was dropped, and the way outbreaks were reported led to the revisiting of plans.

In late September the province asks Ottawa to assist in airlifting Covid patients from overburdened hospitals as the fourth wave ravages limited health care capacity.

October

Cumulative Covid-19 cases to date in Alberta: 301,204

Fourth wave begins to decline

The province announces that close contact tracing and quarantining requirements would be returning to schools after Thanksgiving.

The City of Calgary announced a new vaccination policy for city employees, including members of the Calgary Police Service. A small number of firefighters and police officers protest the mandate at City Hall.

The federal government announced that all core public administration employees and contractors, including the RCMP, must be vaccinated.

The province announced in early October that booster shots would be available for all Albertans aged 75 or older, and for First Nations, Inuit, or Metis people aged 65 or older.

The city’s mobile vaccination clinics reach full fleet capacity, with four sprinter vans and one coach bus offering vaccinations throughout all quadrants of Calgary.

Pfizer submits their clinical trial data to Health Canada for the pediatric version of their mRNA vaccine.

November

Cumulative Covid-19 cases to date in Alberta: 324,307

Fourth wave slowly ends

In late November, the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was identified in Botswana and South Africa.

Dr. Hinshaw would announce Alberta’s first case of Omicron at the end of November. She indicated that the traveller had returned to the province from Nigeria via Amsterdam. The federal government implemented travel bans on a number of African and Middle Eastern nations with high case counts of Omicron.

Health Canada announced that the pediatric version of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine was approved for use across the nation. Significant clinical trials showed the vaccine to be safe for children and being 90.7 per cent effective in preventing infections.

Bookings for the pediatric dose of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine began in late November, with the first doses being delivered into arms on November 28. The vaccine had an immediate uptake by children and parents. Thousands of doses were administered to Calgary children aged 5–11 in the first few days of availability.

Alberta Health Services said that over 15,000 patients have had their surgeries delayed by the fourth wave of Covid in the province.

December

Cumulative Covid-19 cases to date in Alberta: 335,958

Fifth Wave begins

At the beginning of December, rapid tests acquired by the Calgary Police Service from the province put pressure on the City of Calgary to continue to pay for employee testing. The service said that its members would have to pay for tests, but that they had acquired kits through the essential workers program at the province.

In early December the City of Calgary let its state of public emergency lapse. The city said they no longer needed the additional powers, but that the emergency measures would remain in place.

The province lifted restrictions on personal gatherings over the holidays. The prior prohibition on the unvaccinated gathering was removed, with the Premier stating this was to ease division in the province.

Mayor Gondek responded to the province’s changes by saying that the province was trying to keep everyone happy, but was not acting in the best interest of public health.

The Calgary Flames’ season was put on hold as dozens of players and staff were put on the NHL’s Covid-19 protocol. 

The province expanded its booster shot program to all Albertans over the age of 18 in the face of a rapid rise in Omicron cases.

In late-December, The World Juniors Hockey Tournament is cancelled in Alberta due to rising Covid-19 cases.

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