Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Tuesday, Dec. 28

The latest COVID-19 numbers: 

  • Alberta has seen a precipitous rise in COVID-19 cases over the holidays with officials warning that now is the time to stop the spread.
  • There are at least 15,000 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta “that we know of,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said at a news conference with  Premier Jason Kenney on Tueday afternoon. That’s up from 8,359 active cases in total in Alberta just five days earlier at the time of the last provincial update last Thursday (Dec. 23).
  • In Calgary and Edmonton, about one in three people going for a PCR test are positive, the government said Tuesday.
  • In the previous fourth COVID wave in Alberta, PCR testing captured about 1 in 6 cases — but with the Omicron surge, Hinshaw warned she expects current PCR tests are “just the tip of the iceberg” because it does not include people who haven’t been tested or who have confirmed their cases through rapid tests. Last Thursday, the government changed the testing protocol, saying the province no longer had the capacity to do PCR tests for many people due to the expected Omicron case surge. People who get a positive rapid test kit result were told to consider that a COVID-19 confirmation; people who were feeling symptomatic were told the same. Either way, they’re being told to isolate and notify their close contacts but the government is not tracking those cases.
  • At the time of the previous government update, last Thursday (for the previous day, Dec. 22), there had been 1,625 new cases in the previous 24 hours and 8,359 active cases in total in Alberta. As of Tuesday’s rough estimates, there were about:
    • Dec. 27: 1,400 (6,500 tests).
    • Dec. 26: 750 (4,000 tests).
    • Dec. 25: 1,600 (7,200 tests).
    • Dec. 24: 2,500 (11,500 tests).
    • Dec. 23: 2,000 daily new cases (11,500 tests).
  • Alberta’s positively rate has climbed to 22 per cent, with it being “much higher” in Calgary, Kenney said
  • An estimated 323 Albertans were in hospital with COVID, including 50 in ICU. Hinshaw warned it’s a lagging indicator. With Delta, ICU admissions were about a month behind a spike in cases so she anticipates hospitalizations will rise in coming weeks.
  • They didn’t have updated information on the number of deaths since the last update on Dec. 23, when there had been no new deaths reported on the previous day. At that point, since the start of the pandemic, there have been 3,299 COVID deaths in Alberta.
  • Daily updates to the government’s pandemic tracking dashboard has been slowed over the holidays. New data, including daily numbers, are to be provided on Wednesday and on Jan. 4 (so the charts in this story will have gaps in data).

NOTE: Most of the charts in this story are based on the Alberta government’s statistics posted online on its pandemic dashboard, which is only being updated twice through the holidays, on Dec. 29 and Jan. 4. So the numbers shown in the charts may lag behind those estimates announced verbally by the government. They will be updated as soon as possible when the government posts the exact numbers.

The latest on restrictions, outbreaks and more:

  • Critics warn that future tallies of active COVID-19 cases in Alberta might be drastically underreported, after the government changed its testing protocols last week in response to an anticipated surge of cases tied to the more highly infectious Omicron variant. 
    • Last Thursday, the province changed testing guidelines to recommend home rapid antigen testing kits for people with symptoms, instead of lab-based PCR tests, except for some priority groups. 
    • People who get a positive rapid test kit result are told to consider that a COVID-19 confirmation, isolate and notify their close contacts but the government isn’t tracking these results.
    • The government also told people that if they feel symptomatic, they should assume they have COVID-19, isolate and notify their close contacts. The government also isn’t tracking these results.
    • The government acknowledged the change would affect the accuracy of case counts, but said it planned to use wastewater surveillance and track people who have risk factors.
    • 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.
  • Protection provided by two doses of COVID-19 vaccines has waned dramatically since the highly infectious Omicron variant started spreading across Ontario, according to data released Monday from the province’s Science Advisory Table.
    • The data shows that two vaccine doses continue to offer over 90 per cent protection against severe outcomes like hospitalization and intensive care unit admission — proof that the vaccines have been successful at achieving the primary goal, said Dr. Peter Jüni, the group’s scientific director. However, he said the situation could change in coming weeks because, up until now, most people who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 were infected with the previously dominant Delta variant. 
    • However, the Ontario data shows two doses are no longer as effective at preventing people from catching COVID-19 in the first place. Vaccine protection has fallen to 14.9 per cent — from nearly 90 per cent a month ago — for people who have received two doses, according to the data. 
    • Jüni urged everyone to get a booster as soon as possible as data from the U.K. has shown a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine can decrease the risk of infection by up to five times.
  • Thirty-eight staff members have tested positive with COVID-19 at the Drumheller Institution, according to the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC).
    • Some of those who tested positive attended a Christmas party earlier in the month, but the CSC would not confirm how many.
    • No inmates  tested positive with COVID-19 during the outbreak, but in-person visits to inmates was indefinitely suspended.
  • New public health restrictions in Alberta to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant took effect last Friday. 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.
    • Premier Jason Kenney said on Dec. 21 that the changes would apply to NHL games, as well as the World Junior Tournament set to begin on Boxing Day.
    • 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.
    • They must stop serving liquor at 11 p.m. and close at 12:30 a.m.

WATCH | What is the Omicron variant? Infectious disease expert Craig Jenne simplifies what the variant is:

What is the Omicron variant?

11 days ago

Duration 5:00

Infectious disease expert Craig Jenne simplifies what the variant is, and what it means for the latest round in our battle against COVID. 5:00

  • Hinshaw strongly urged people scale back their gatherings, but acknowledged gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed.
    • Her warning came about a week after Premier Jason 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’s health-care system has already been repeatedly overwhelmed during the COVID-19 pandemic. In anticipation of  anticipated demand from soaring Omicron variant cases, the province directed Alberta Health Services to allow any unimmunized physicians and staff who want to return to work may do so, with participation in a temporary testing program
    • This will affect approximately 1,400 full- and part-time staff who are not fully immunized, who have previously been placed on unpaid leave. Testing will be at staff expense. 
  • The governing United Conservative Party was accused of showing hypocrisy by going ahead with a Christmas party on Dec 21, a few hours after the health minister strongly encouraged workplaces to cancel holiday gatherings. 
  • The Omicron variant has prompted several post-secondary institutions across the province to return to online learning for the first few weeks of the winter term.
    • This includes the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, MacEwan University, University of Lethbridge, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) and Mount Royal University.
  • Alberta has had a restrictions exemption programa 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. 
  • Starting Dec. 17, the Alberta government made free take-home COVID-19 rapid antigen testing kits available for at-home use on a first-come, first-served basis while supplies last.
  • There’s a limit of one box per person within 14 days and each box contains five tests, since it takes time for people’s bodies to develop enough protein from the virus that causes COVID-19 after being exposed.

WATCH: How to perform the rapid antigen test:

How to use a take home COVID-19 test kit

12 days ago

Duration 1:51

With the province releasing home rapid COVID-19 test kits, Edmonton pharmacist Shivali Sharma shows CBC’s Pippa Reed how to use one properly. 1:51

The latest on vaccines:

  • As of last Friday, 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
    • 72.2 per cent of the province’s total population — or 76.6 per cent of eligible Albertans (ages five years and older) — have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
    • 78.4 per cent of the province’s total population, and 83.3 per cent of those ages five and older, have received at least one dose.
    • That compares with 82.4 per cent of the total population Canada-wide that has received at least one dose of vaccine, and 76.5 per cent of the total population that has been fully vaccinated. Among those eligible across the country, 86.7 per cent have had one dose, and 80.5 per cent are fully vaccinated.

  • Starting Dec. 21, the Alberta government announced that anyone aged 18 and older who received their second COVID-19 vaccine at least five months ago could now book a third dose.
  • Boosters of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be offered to Albertans 18 to 29 years of age due to a slightly increased risk of myocarditis in younger Albertans, especially males, from Moderna — although the government emphasizes that individuals are much more likely to experience myocarditis from COVID-19 infection than the vaccine.

See which regions are being hit hardest:

Here is the latest detailed regional breakdown of active cases, as reported by the province last Thursday (Dec. 23):

  • Calgary zone: 4,665.
  • Edmonton zone: 2,539.
  • Central zone: 460.
  • North zone: 424.
  • South zone: 241.
  • Unknown: 30.

Here are the latest Alberta COVID-19 stories:

The latest updates on COVID-19 in Alberta in charts and graphs:

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