Thirteen Albertans died of COVID-19 on the first Sunday of October, another sad but routine day during the fourth wave of the pandemic on the Prairies. A surge of infections in recent months has overwhelmed hospitals in Alberta and Saskatchewan, while also leaving the two provinces with the highest death rates of any other province.
One of those who died on October 3 was Jim Culham, an 85-year-old pastor from Castor, Alta. A former missionary, social worker and hospital pastor who married a nurse, he was known and adored in Castor as caring, witty and friendly.
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“You talk about statistics and say, ‘So many people died in Alberta today.’ And then we realized that one of them was our father,” said Jim’s son Rod Culham, who lives in London, Ont., and was in Castor last week for his father’s funeral.
“He is one of those numbers. And behind the other numbers are families. There are people who are hurting.”
The recent surge of COVID-19 infections has proved to be more deadly than the third wave of spring in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where the per capita death rate is more than three times the national figure and seven times higher than in Ontario.
In Canada, Alberta alone accounted for more than a third of the deaths in the past two weeks, despite being less than 10 percent of the population. More than 450 people have died of COVID-19 in the province since September 1, and the virus is now killing around 100 people a week.
In Saskatchewan, about 40 people a week are dying from COVID-19, although the per capita rate is even higher than in Alberta. The death rate in Saskatchewan is 21 times higher than in Nova Scotia.
Experts and health officials have attributed the more infectious delta variant and comparatively low vaccination coverage, especially in rural areas, to higher infection rates – and to hospital admissions and deaths. Most of the people who have died in recent months, including Jim Culham, have not been vaccinated.
Both provinces lifted most public-health restrictions over the summer based on a failed theory that infections would be “disrupted” with dire consequences. Having been COVID-19 hot spots at earlier points during the pandemic, they had the highest infection, hospital and intensive-care unit admission rates and death rates in the country during the fourth wave.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe protested the imposition of additional public-health measures in August and early September as infections rose and ICUs were filled, leading to the cancellation of extensive surgeries as the death toll in both provinces rose. happened. They both continue to reject widespread shutdowns to get the virus under control, but are implementing vaccine passports, despite previously rejecting the idea while implementing other measures such as mandatory masking.
The premier has blamed illiterate people for the condition of his provinces. Mr Kenny has argued that those who refuse vaccination will not follow public-health regulations, while Mr Moe has repeatedly said that promoting vaccination is the only thing that will work.