EDITOR’S NOTE: Daily case counts have never been perfect, but at this point in the Omicron-driven wave, they’re a deeply flawed metric. Throughout the pandemic, the case counts have been based on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing done by provincial bodies like Alberta Health Services, but those testing protocols have shifted to prioritize high-priority groups and people in higher risk settings, like health-care workers. So there are likely to be thousands of cases going untested, or tested but not reported, since there is no system for cataloguing at-home rapid antigen tests.
As a result, CBC News will de-emphasize case counts in our coverage, in favour of data and metrics that experts now say are more illuminating — such as COVID-19 hospitalizations and intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, which help us understand Omicron’s impact on the health-care system and severity of illness it causes, as well as the testing positivity rate, which if it starts to level out and come down could indicate the wave has peaked.
- Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, gave an update Wednesday.
- LaGrange said Alberta students — kindergarten to Grade 12 — will return to classrooms Jan. 10.
- An initial shipment of extra masks and test kits is set to arrive at all schools no later than the end of next week, LaGrange said.
- Students in grades 4 to 9 will be able to access free, prerecorded, online tutoring resources starting next week to help them catch up on skills and learning they may have missed.
- Later this year, that tutoring will be expanded to more subjects and will include live tutoring.
- School authorities will continue to be able to shift classes or grades to at-home learning for short periods of time to address outbreaks.
The latest COVID-19 numbers:
- Alberta COVID-19 infections are at record highs as the highly infectious Omicron variant spreads through the province. The following numbers were released Jan. 7:
- There were 504 people with COVID in hospital in Alberta on Friday. Last week, were there were 392 COVID-19 patients in hospital.
- There were 64 people with COVID in intensive care, the same number as the last update.
- Provincial ICU capacity (including additional surge beds) is now at 73 per cent. Without the additional surge spaces, provincial ICU capacity would be at 102 per cent.
- Alberta Health statistics show the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the province has increased by 43 per cent since Dec. 29.
- Alberta could see record COVID-19 hospitalizations within 14 days, according to projections from Alberta Health Services’ COVID-19 early warning system.
- Emerging data from other jurisdictions indicates Omicron may not hit intensive care units as the Delta variant did but will likely impact other areas of the health-care system in emergency wards and ambulatory care.
- Dr. Eddy Lang, department head of emergency medicine in the Calgary zone, estimates about 10 per cent of all hospitalized patients in Calgary zone are positive for Omicron. Roughly half of them are there to be treated for other conditions and happen to test positive. But those patients need to be isolated from others within the hospital which takes additional resources, time and space.
- Positivity rates:
- Alberta’s positivity rate on Friday was 38 per cent, much higher than seen in earlier waves.
- On Friday, the province reported two more deaths. A total of 3,338 people have died of the virus in Alberta.
- Case counts:
- There are officially 43,414 active reported cases in the province based on cases confirmed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing through Alberta Health Services — but the true figure is thought to be far higher due to the high positivity rates and changes to testing.
- 348,500 people have recovered from COVID-19.
- As of Dec. 23, Alberta changed its testing protocol, like many provinces, saying most people should switch to using at-home rapid antigen testing kits over PCR tests.
- This was in response to the anticipated surge in cases tied to Omicron, to preserve limited lab capacity for PCR testing of high-priority groups and those in higher risk settings, like health-care workers.
- People who test positive on rapid tests and people who don’t have access to rapid testing kits but who are symptomatic are being told to isolate and notify close contacts.
- Many doctors are urging people using rapid antigen testing kits to swab their throats as well as their noses to improve their chances of detecting the virus early.
Rapid antigen tests:
- Many Albertans have been struggling in the past two weeks to get their hands on rapid antigen tests, since the government said before the holidays that they’d be available for free on a first-come, first-serve basis through participating pharmacies and Alberta Health Services locations.
- Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos confirmed on Jan. 7 that Alberta is set this month to receive 16.2 million more tests out of a pool of 140 million newly obtained by Ottawa.
- In addition, on Jan. 4, Kenney said the province has secured another 10 million for Alberta.
- The first priority will be getting them into schools, he said.
- As of Jan. 3, people with at least two doses of vaccine who test positive for COVID-19 need to isolate for only five days instead of 10.
- If symptoms continue past five days, fully vaccinated people must continue to isolate until feeling better.
- If they’re symptom free after five days, they must wear a mask around others at all times when they’re outside their home.
- The change does not apply to people who aren’t fully vaccinated, who must continue to isolate for 10 days or until their symptoms end, whichever is longer.
- Copping said the change followed evidence that suggests fully immunized people have shorter infectious periods.
- This change also follows the approach taken by Ontario and some other provinces, as well as the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control in the United States, Copping said.
- Exceptions will be provided for workplaces where disruption of service for 24 hours or more would be harmful to the public, and where there is no other way to continue the service except by bringing workers back before their isolation period has ended, Copping said.
- In these circumstances, additional public health measures will be required. For example, Copping said returning workers would not be allowed to remove their masks when in the same room as anyone else at any time.
- On Jan. 5, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said students would return to schools Jan. 10
- Previously schools’ winter break for K-Grade 12 students was extended to Jan. 10.
- Because of the disruption to learning, January diploma exams will also be cancelled.
- The delay will also be accompanied by the distribution of 8.6 million at-home rapid tests and medical grade masks.
- Daycares will remain open.
- The Omicron variant had already prompted several post-secondary institutions across the province to return to online learning for the first few weeks of the winter term.
- New public health restrictions in Alberta took effect on Dec. 24. They include:
- Venues in the Restrictions Exemption Program that seat more than 1,000 people are to be at 50 per cent capacity. For venues with capacity of 500 to 1,000 occupants, 500 people is the limit. No food or drink can be consumed in these venues.
- Restaurants, pubs and bars are to have a maximum table capacity of 10 people. Mingling between tables and interactive activities like dancing or billiards are not permitted.
- The tightened restrictions came after Kenney loosened private social gathering restrictions on Dec. 15, scrapping the rule that only people from two households can get together indoors. He said social gatherings could consist of people from any household, but shouldn’t exceed 10 people (not counting those under age 18). He also dropped the requirement that everyone at indoor social gatherings be fully vaccinated.
- Alberta has had a restrictions exemption program, a voluntary vaccine passport system, in place as of Sept. 20 after suffering through a disastrous fourth wave of COVID-19. A full list of restrictions and exemptions is available on the government’s website.
- As of Jan. 5, Alberta placed last of all provinces and territories in terms of the percentage of eligible people (ages five and up) who had received the COVID-19 vaccine, according to CBC’s vaccine tracker.
- 72.6 per cent of the province’s total population — or 76.8 per cent of eligible Albertans (ages five years and older) — have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
- 79.1 per cent of the province’s total population, and 83.5 per cent of those ages five and older, have received at least one dose.
- The province said as of Jan. 3, more than one million people have had a booster shot. But an additional two million Albertans have received their first two doses and are eligible for a booster. Anyone aged 18 and older who received their second COVID-19 vaccine at least five months ago is being urged to book a booster dose.
- The City of Calgary’s mobile COVID vaccination program is continuing until at least Jan. 17, and will be providing booster shots at various locations around Calgary. It was slated to end on Dec. 31, but the city said Monday it has received additional vaccine supply from the province.
Which regions are being hit hardest:
Here is the latest detailed regional breakdown of active cases, as reported by the province on Jan. 7:
- Calgary zone: 20,633.
- Edmonton zone: 16,269.
- Central zone: 2,305.
- North zone: 1,758.
- South zone: 1,732.
- Unknown: 717.