Health officials and unions representing health-care workers say they will be closely watching hospital outbreaks involving the more infectious delta variant as Alberta readies to lift virtually all of its COVID-19 public health restrictions on July 1.
According to the province’s most recent data, there are over 600 reported cases of the variant in the province.
The vast majority are in Calgary, where an outbreak linked to three deaths at the Foothills Hospital continues.
Four people have now also tested positive for COVID-19 in an outbreak at the Peter Lougheed Centre (PLC), and Alberta Health Services told CBC News on Monday that the delta variant was confirmed in one fully immunized patient.
Variant of concern test results were also pending for a second un-immunized patient.
By Tuesday, a third patient and a health-care worker — both fully vaccinated — had also tested positive for COVID-19 and were awaiting the same test results.
WATCH | How does the delta variant impact vaccine rollouts and reopening?
Bonnie Gostola, a vice president with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represents about 1,600 licensed practical nurses and other staff at the PLC, said that as the provincial government prepares to open for summer, its members are exhausted and concerned.
“We have members that are starting to quit, take retirement, and get out because they’re so tired,” Gostola said.
“I think the hospitals are doing everything in their power to keep COVID at bay, but it is worrisome that you’ve seen the outbreak at foothills and now it’s moved over to PLC. Where does it end?”
Small number of cases among double-dosed: Hinshaw
As new cases trend downward and vaccination numbers rise, the Alberta government plans to allow indoor and outdoor gatherings, end capacity limits and lift much of its mask mandate on Thursday.
However, the delta variant is transmissible enough to worry health-care workers in Alberta, Gostola said. The variant has triggered a caseload resurgence in other countries such as the U.K., where reopening plans were recently delayed.
“We need to shut this province down, and keep it shut down, until COVID just doesn’t have anywhere else to go,” Gostola said.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said during her last regular provincial update on Tuesday that variant outbreaks in hospitals are being watched closely, and it’s important to put these cases into context.
Only a very small percentage of cases abroad are occurring in people who have had two doses of vaccine, and even a single dose provides high levels of protection against hospitalization, she said.
She said getting Albertans fully vaccinated as soon as possible is key.
“In our own data, although we have many fewer delta cases, we are seeing the majority of cases occurring in those who have no vaccine — and in a smaller number, those who have had a single dose,” Hinshaw said.
Hinshaw said while most public health measures will be lifted by July 1, hospitals will maintain protocols such as continuous masking and enhanced infection prevention to limit transmission.
“It’s some of those protective measures that we need to keep in place … while we learn what happens as we move into Stage 3.”