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.
The latest numbers:
- The province reported 966 Albertans in hospital with COVID on Friday, which is one fewer than on Thursday and 79 fewer than the same time the previous week.
- There were 62 patients in intensive care, which is five fewer than on Thursday.
- The province reported four new COVID-19 deaths Friday. A total of 4,023 Albertans have died of COVID-19.
- The province reported 502 new COVID cases on March 17, from 2,925 tests.
- The seven-day average positivity rate is around 21 per cent.
- There are 6,583 known active cases in the province, though that number includes only those who test positive on a PCR test, which most Albertans can’t access.
The latest on restrictions:
- Hundreds of Alberta health-care workers — on unpaid leave because they’re not immunized against COVID-19 — are expected back on the job by March 31, after the provincial government directed Alberta Health Services to lift its vaccine mandate.
- The Alberta government has introduced legislation to limit the authority of municipalities to impose COVID-19 mask and proof of vaccine rules. Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver said on March 8 that municipalities will now need provincial approval to pass such strictures on private businesses.
- However, McIver said local leaders will still have that power when it comes to municipally-owned infrastructure such as recreation centres, buildings and arenas.
- Nearly all pandemic public health measures were lifted in the province as of March 1, as the Alberta government launched Step 2 of its reopening plan.
- This phase removes indoor masking, remaining school requirements, youth screening for entertainment and sports, removal of capacity limits on all large venues and entertainment venues, limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings lifted and mandatory work from home lifted.
- Masking is still required in high-risk settings including Alberta Health Services-operated and contracted facilities, all continuing care settings, and on municipal transit services. The rule does not cover private services such as taxis or Uber trips.
- As of Feb. 14, there are no masking requirements for children and youth 12 years old and younger and no masking requirements for children and youth in schools for any age.
- Stage 1 took effect Feb. 16 and removed the restrictions exemption program, removed restrictions on food and beverage at entertainment venues, and removed capacity limits for all venues, except those that have a large capacity.
- Premier Jason Kenney says the province is working toward a third stage, which does not have a date, where people would no longer be required to isolate if they have COVID-19, and COVID operational and outbreak protocols will be lifted in continuing care facilities.
- Health Minister Jason Copping said the stages are all conditions-based approach, based on hospitalization trends.
- Wastewater numbers in Alberta show a slight uptick in the number of new COVID-19 infections since early March. The data is from a dashboard created by the University of Calgary Centre for Informatics.
- The Alberta government scaled back widespread PCR testing to focus on those in high-priority settings, and is now relying on wastewater surveillance more than ever before to track the prevalence of COVID-19 in Alberta.
- The province’s wastewater — and the amount of infection in it — has been monitored for two years by a group of 23 researchers in a joint project with the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta.
- The data is updated publicly three times per week.
- It depicts the amount of SARS-CoV-2 RNA — the virus that causes COVID-19 — that’s in the province’s wastewater.
- The virus is shed in peoples’ feces before symptoms arise, so values in the data associate strongest with cases occurring six days after the samples are collected.
- Starting March 14, youth aged 12 to 17 can begin receiving a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine, as long as it’s a minimum of five months since their second dose.
- Alberta Health Services (AHS) is temporarily opening COVID-19 pediatric immunization walk-in appointment times in the Calgary Zone to provide for families with children age five to 11 who they wish to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Clinics are open from March 2 to 16 in both urban and rural Calgary Zone communities. To find an AHS clinic with extended hours and walk-in appointments, visit: www.ahs.ca/vaccine.
- According to Alberta Health, 76.3 per cent of the province’s population — or 86.6 per cent of those older than 12 — have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Active cases by region:
As of March 17, there were 6,583 known active cases in Alberta. However, the true number of active cases is likely considerably higher because the province’s numbers include only those who test positive on a PCR test, which most Albertans can’t access.
- Calgary zone: 2,303.
- Edmonton zone: 1,971.
- Central zone: 918.
- North zone: 700.
- South zone: 650.
- Unknown: 10.