Alberta to shift COVID-19 testing strategy as Omicron variant spreads

Alberta’s recommendations for testing have changed as the province braces for an influx of COVID-19 cases spurred by the Omicron variant.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, reiterated the speed of the variant’s spread. Alberta is showing spread on par with other jurisdictions — doubling times of just two or three days, Hinshaw said.

“This is much faster than we experienced with the Delta variant over the last six months,” she said Thursday.

To ease the burden on provincial lab testing, Hinshaw said rapid tests should be used for those with symptoms and encouraged Albertans to use rapid tests over a PCR test.

Those who test positive on a rapid test should take it as confirmation and isolate, she said. A negative test should be followed by another rapid test 24 to 48 hours but should be coupled with isolation. 

Following a second negative test, Albertans are to isolate until they no longer have symptoms.

Asymptomatic testing for close contacts is not part of the eligibility for PCR testing, Hinshaw said.

Contact tracing will be shifted to focus on high priority settings like congregate care and health-care facilities. 

COVID-19 in Alberta

Alberta reported 1,625 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, detected through around11,800 tests. The positivity rate sits at 13.6 per cent.

No new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the previous 24 hours.

As of Thursday, 318 people were in hospital, including 64 in intensive care. 

“While these numbers have dropped in the recent week, it’s important to know that there are very high baselines and it’s too soon to know what the severity impact from our Omicron cases will be,” Hinshaw said Thursday.

Hinshaw said there had been a significant uptake of third doses since eligibility was expanded — 196,391 boosters had been booked since the announcement on Tuesday.

She once again repeated her call from earlier this week for Albertans to cut their in-person social contacts by at least half over the holidays.

The total number of Omicron cases in Alberta has soared and it is now considered to be the dominant strain in the province.

Transmission of the new strain has escalated daily case counts in the province to levels not seen for months.

On Tuesday, in a bid to clamp down on the spread of Omicron, Alberta introduced new public health restrictions while expanding rapid testing and third dose vaccinations.

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