Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reporting 600 new cases of COVID-19, 4 deaths; Alberta doctors ask government to restrict unvaccinated people from indoor spaces as ICU admissions hit all-time high

The latest news from Canada and around the world Monday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

8:56 p.m.: As hundreds of mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients filled Alabama intensive care units, hospital staff in north Alabama contacted 43 hospitals in three states to find a specialty cardiac ICU bed for Ray Martin DeMonia, his family wrote in his obituary.

The man was finally transferred to Meridian, Mississippi, about 274 kilometres away. That is where the 73-year-old antiques dealer died Sept. 1 because of the cardiac event he suffered. Now his family is making a plea.

“In honor (sic) of Ray, please get vaccinated if you have not, in an effort to free up resources for non-COVID related emergencies,” his obituary read.

Alabama for weeks has seen a surge of mostly unvaccinated patients filling hospitals and intensive care units, making it increasingly difficult to transfer patients to other facilities for specialty care, said Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association.

Jennifer Malone, a spokesperson for the Cullman Regional Medical Center, confirmed DeMonia was a patient and said he needed to be transferred to receive a higher level of specialized care not available at Cullman. She could not comment more for privacy reasons, but said the “continued surge in COVID patients has saturated tertiary care hospitals creating an ongoing and increasing challenge for Cullman Regional staff to find hospitals able to receive patient transfers when needed.”

Alabama on Monday had 2,474 COVID-19 patients in state hospitals of which 86 per cent were unvaccinated, according to the Alabama Hospital Association.

8:33 p.m.: Alberta doctors called on the government to restrict unvaccinated people from indoor public spaces on Monday, as COVID-19 intensive care admissions reached an all-time high.

Numbers released by the province show 198 Albertans with COVID-19 were receiving intensive care — surpassing the previous record of 182 admissions in May. Alberta Health Services, as of Monday morning, said the number was even higher, at 202.

Alberta Health Services also said intensive care capacity was operating at 90 per cent with surge spaces added. Without additional surge beds, capacity would be at 148 per cent.

In an open letter, 65 intensive care physicians urged the United Conservative government to take urgent action to protect the health system.

“It is our opinion that the current measures do not go nearly far enough to interrupt transmission or reduce barriers to vaccination. It is also our opinion that the current state of health-care capacity in Alberta is so dire that waiting to see the results of current, less stringent measures will result in devastating consequences,” reads the letter.

“To prevent broad restrictions like those required in earlier waves, we are calling for immediate implementation of certificates of immunity that individuals must provide to enter any indoor public spaces for the purpose of accessing anon-essential service.”

8:30 p.m.: It was supposed to be a “great Saskatchewan summer.” But on Monday the province saw 449 new cases of COVID-19 — its highest single-day count of new infections during the pandemic.

The same day, it also re-enacted an emergency order to deal with a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations. There were 209 people in hospital with COVID-19, 41 of them in intensive care.

The order, which previously ended July 11, gives the government the power to redirect health-care workers to areas experiencing pressure from COVID-19.

And the Saskatchewan Health Authority activated a plan to reduce elective surgeries to free up staff, mainly to care for unvaccinated patients in hospital with the virus.

Premier Scott Moe said last week that 17,000 health-care worker shifts were unfilled in July, an increase of 160 per cent from the year prior.

Beds are limited as well. The health authority said it increased its 79 intensive care beds to 130 to accommodate a projected need for 80 COVID-19 intensive care patients, while also leaving beds for 50 ICU patients without COVID-19.

Moe said the rise in summer cases has put a “tremendous strain” on the province’s health-care system, but his Saskatchewan Party government will not implement any restrictions at this time. He said he believes vaccination is a choice.

5 p.m.: Health officials in New Brunswick are reporting 122 new cases of COVID-19 since Friday, and Premier Blaine Higgs says new measures may be required to motivate more people to get vaccinated.

There are now 229 active cases in the province and 11 people are hospitalized, including nine in intensive care.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell describes the current fourth wave of COVID-19 as an epidemic among the unvaccinated and those not yet eligible for vaccination.

She said 86 per cent of the new cases involve people who are not fully vaccinated.

Higgs said the increase in the number of hospitalized cases is concerning and additional public health measures will be considered.

“Cabinet will be meeting later this afternoon to … determine whether new requirements are needed to ensure our hospitals do not become overwhelmed, that our schools will continue to operate as normally as possible and that we can keep New Brunswick in green,” Higgs said, referring to the province’s colour-coded COVID-19 alert system.

4:58 p.m.: Health officials in Prince Edward Island are reporting five new cases of COVID-19 in the province Monday.

Four of the cases involve students under the age of 19 while the fifth involves a person in their 60s who recently travelled outside of Atlantic Canada.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Heather Morrison says there are now eight confirmed cases at West Royalty Elementary School and two at Charlottetown Rural High School.

She says so far officials have not been able to find a link between the cases at the two schools or with off-island travel.

4:56 p.m.: A U.S. federal judge on Monday ordered the state of Iowa to immediately halt enforcement of a law passed in May that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Judge Robert Pratt said the law substantially increases the risk of several children with health conditions of contracting COVID-19.

Pratt said he has looked at data on the effectiveness of masks to reduce spread of the virus and agrees with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics on mask-wearing in schools.

His order said Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo cannot enforce the new law banning local school districts from using their discretion to mandate masks for students, staff, teachers and visitors.

He issued a temporary restraining order to be in effect immediately. It remains in effect until the court issues an order for a preliminary injunction.

4:47 p.m.: The number of COVID-19 cases is rising in Quebec schools since they reopened following the summer break — but that’s to be expected, according to a pediatric health expert.

The rise in cases among children is predictable given the increasing transmission of the Delta variant in the general population and the fact children under 12 can’t yet be vaccinated, Dr. Jesse Papenburg, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, said Monday.

But Papenburg said there’s no evidence the Delta variant is any more likely to cause severe illness in children than the original strain of virus.

While there has been a rise in pediatric COVID-19 patients in parts of the United States, Papenburg said that is occurring in places where vaccination rates remain low. He said those low rates have led to much higher transmission among all segments of the population, including children.

Papenburg said higher vaccination rates in Quebec should help protect those who are too young to be vaccinated. “I’m hoping that our vaccination rate in Quebec is going to actually prevent that,” he said.

Quebec’s public health institute said Monday there were 414 active outbreaks in the province, 52 of which were in primary schools or preschools and 69 were in daycares. On Friday, the Health Department said there were 657 schools in Quebec with active cases of COVID-19, an increase of 66 from Thursday.

4:28 p.m.: Before they go to work, dozens of Miami International Airport employees have been put to the sniff test by a pair of specially trained dogs that can detect COVID-19.

So far the pilot project launched last month has detected a pair of cases, and will be extended until October and could be expanded to other key facilities.

Cobra, a Belgian Malinois, and One Betta, a Dutch shepherd, inspect staff at a checkpoint where employees are required to remove masks and dangle them in front of either dog. The dogs sit to signal if they detect an odour produced by volatile organic compounds common to those infected with COVID-19. The dogs are 97.5 per cent accurate in detecting the virus, said Dr. Kenneth Furton, provost and executive vice-president of Florida International University.

Thus far, the dogs detected two cases. One employee tested positive; the other was recovering from COVID-19.

If the dogs signal for COVID, the employee would take a rapid test and, if they tested positive, they would be asked to leave and quarantin