EDITOR’S NOTE: Throughout the pandemic, 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. In Alberta there is no system for cataloguing at-home rapid antigen tests, meaning many people with COVID-19 aren’t reflected in the data.
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 — including hospitalizations and wastewater monitoring.
- The government has now moved to a once-a-week reporting schedule.
- The province reported 956 Albertans in hospital with COVID on March 23.
- There were 56 patients in intensive care.
- The province reported 21 new COVID-19 deaths since Friday. A total of 4,044 Albertans have died of COVID-19.
- Between Friday, which was the last time COVID-19 figures were reported, and Wednesday, the daily positivity rate fluctuated between 20.6 per cent and 27.1 per cent, with an average of 23.5 per cent.
- There were 1,900 new cases reported between March 18 and 21, out of 8,317 tests completed in that time. The case count includes only those who test positive on a PCR test, which most Albertans can’t access.
- Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said the more transmissible Omicron subvariant, known as BA.2, is now the dominant strain of Omicron in the province.
- Hinshaw said all PCR tests are screened for variants of concern. As of March 2, approximately 60 per cent of those positive cases were BA.2.
- Hinshaw said transmission is expected to trend upward in coming weeks. She said those at risk of severe outcomes should revisit their precautionary measures and those who have not gotten a booster should get one.
- Wastewater readings in Alberta are trending up, indicating new COVID-19 infections are rising amid the Omicron subvariant BA.2 becoming the dominant strain of the disease in the province. Those higher readings mirror trends across Canada and a recent rise in global COVID-19 cases.
- Alberta data from a dashboard created by the University of Calgary Centre for Health Informatics shows the average amount of COVID-19 detected in wastewater. The data is updated publicly three times per week. 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.
- Kevin Frankowski, the executive director of Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets (ACWA) at the University of Calgary, said the amount of virus circulating in the community is staying relatively high. “Based upon the wastewater numbers, it’s clear that COVID isn’t over yet. We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said. “It’s important to remain vigilant.”
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- According to Alberta Health, 76.4 per cent of the province’s population — or 86.7 per cent of those older than 12 — have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
- The province is not currently expanding eligibility for fourth doses, Hinshaw said. It is available only to those with significant immunocompromising conditions. Guidance for those who received an AstraZeneca vaccine remains the same as it does for others — it is not recommended to get an additional dose if people have already had a total of three doses of vaccine.
Hospitalizations by region:
As of March 23, there were 956 Albertans in hospital.
- Calgary zone: 311.
- Edmonton zone: 319.
- Central zone: 119.
- North zone: 118.
- South zone: 89.