More than 50 COVID-19 variant cases in Alta. one week ahead of Stage 1 reopening

EDMONTON — Alberta’s top doctor said Monday the province still has work to do to curb the spread of coronavirus, reporting that afternoon more cases of COVID-19 variants.

That afternoon, Chief Medical officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw revealed the number of COVID-19 variant cases in the province had risen to 51, up from 37 on Friday.

Some, she told reporters, were older cases from a “travel-related” batch of positives over the past month.

“So now we’re going back to make sure that we’re following up and ensuring that, again, with each of those cases, there was no onward spread,” Hinshaw explained. “But it is not an escalating number from the perspective of local transmission.”

Contact tracers have been unable to find a source of transmission for three newly confirmed cases, between two unrelated households, of the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the U.K.

In total, the province has six such cases in three unlinked homes.

“Of course that is concerning as it seems that in those cases, there may have been a source that we haven’t identified indicating that there likely is some spread in the community that we have not yet tracked back,” Hinshaw commented.

The other 45 variant cases have been connected to travel or a household contact of someone who travelled.

Alberta’s labs are now screening 300 samples per day for the specific mutations of the variants originating in the United Kingdom and South Africa, and fully sequencing 400 samples per week for any mutations.

REOPENING ‘PREMATURE’: EDMONTON MAYOR

Just a week out from easing restrictions to allow in-person dining and one-on-one personal training sessions, Alberta has 7,387 active cases.

On Monday, Hinshaw reported 10 more deaths, 355 new cases, and a positivity rate of 4.9 per cent on Monday.

The province’s reproductive (R) value sits at 0.83.

There are 566 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, 102 of whom are in ICUs.

And although the rate of infections among school-aged minors continue to fall, there are still 298 schools with alerts or outbreaks that account for 701 cases.

“We have reached a place where we should be able to further ease measures on Feb. 8, but we have seen cases fall and rise before,” Hinshaw said Monday afternoon. “We all must remain vigilant to be extra careful to keep schools, continuing care facilities and all other settings safe, and to keep our hospitalizations trending downwards. We must all keep doing our part.”

But some, including Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, are critical that Alberta is moving too fast.

Earlier that day, he spoke of hearing about “tremendous uncertainty, particularly given the new variants, about when and how it would be safe to reopen.”

“It seems premature from my perspective, but I don’t have the same data that the Government of Alberta and Dr. Hinshaw have access to.”

Hinshaw said the province’s four-stage plan was designed to determine whether measures need to be held or reinstated according to a “moving forward metric” of overall hospitalizations and “leading indicators” of Alberta’s daily cases, positivity rate, and growth rate.

“Those almost act as an emergency break. So if we meet hospitalization numbers but all of our leading indicators are escalating in a concerning way, then we would pause our move forward and we may indeed need to move backward,” Hinshaw said.

“The leading indicators may tell us when we need to take steps back, and those lagging indicators are the required metrics to reach before we can take that step forward into easing measures.”

Each stage is separated by a minimum of three weeks so her department can see whether the rules relaxed most recently are driving infections up.

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