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.
- Health Minister Jason Copping and Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, gave an update on COVID-19 on May 17.
- Full COVID-19 figures from the period of May 10 to May 16 were released on Wednesday.
- As of end of day May 16, 1,165 people were in hospital with COVID-19, down from 1,225 people last week.
- 42 people were in intensive care, up from 37 last week.
- 61 new COVID-19 deaths were reported between May 10 and May 16. A total of 4,452 Albertans have died of the disease.
- There were 3,614 new COVID-19 cases reported out of 18,349 tests. The case count includes only those who test positive on a PCR test, which most Albertans can’t access.
- The average positivity rate was 19.93 per cent, compared with 22.98 per cent the week before.
- In a news conference on May 17, Hinshaw said deaths are typically one of the last indicators to fall. “This is why these high numbers of deaths that we have seen in the past weeks as well as this week is not unexpected, although it is a tragic reminder of the severe impacts of this virus,” she said.
- Hinshaw said the province is in discussions about expanding eligibility for fourth doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but that three doses continues to remain effective against severe outcomes for most people.
- Copping said that for the third week in a row, COVID-19 positivity test rates have dropped, a further sign that the BA.2 peak has passed. He added that pressure on the health-care system remains high, particularly on EMS.
- As of May 4, the province is now allowing community providers, such as family physicians, to prescribe Paxlovid to those eligible for the COVID-19 treatment. A positive rapid test will now be accepted to confirm COVID-19 infection in order to prescribe Paxlovid.
- The eligibility list for Paxlovid now includes all Albertans 60 and up — and Indigenous people 50 and up — with 2 doses or less of vaccine and at least one pre-existing condition. Also added are Albertans 70 and up — and Indigenous people 60 and older — with three or fewer doses and two or more pre-existing conditions.
- 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 a week.
- Copping says wastewater levels in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer are well past their peaks, but continue to show high levels of virus are circulating.
- 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.
- A note on reading wastewater charts: Numbers taken from different wastewater treatment facilities use different testing and collection methods. Because of this, comparisons across cities cannot be made directly and one should assess only the trends. For example, there is an upward trend in the readings in both Edmonton and Calgary, but one cannot say whether levels are higher in one city or the other.
The latest on restrictions:
- 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.
- Copping said the stages are all conditions-based approaches, based on hospitalization trends.
- According to Alberta Health, 77 per cent of the province’s population — or 87 per cent of those older than 12 — have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
- According to the statistics from Alberta Health, 44.4 per cent of Albertans 12 and up have had three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
- As of April 12, all Albertans age 70 and older, First Nations, Métis and Inuit people in Alberta age 65 and older, and all seniors in congregate care can receive a fourth dose of vaccine.
- Children from six to 11 have the option of getting the Moderna vaccine as of April 12.
Hospitalizations by region:
As of end of day on May 16, there were 1,165 Albertans in hospital with COVID.
- Calgary zone: 452.
- Edmonton zone: 369.
- Central zone: 161.
- North zone: 108.
- South zone: 75.