COVID-19 cases in the province, largely driven by the Omicron BA.2 sub-variant, have trended slightly higher over the past week but the increase is not expected to put undue new pressure on the hospital system, Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping said Wednesday.
“We are seeing more virus circulating in Alberta, as in other provinces,” Copping said during the weekly COVID update news conference. “This is not surprising given the transmissibility of BA.2 and the increase in contacts as people resume their normal routines. That being said, we are so far not seeing any large impact in terms of severe outcomes.
“We may see some further increase in the next few weeks, but we are prepared for it and at this time we do not expect the kind of impact we saw in the initial Omicron wave in December and in January.”
Dr. Deanna Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, also took part in the April 13 news conference.
There were 1,053 patients with COVID-19 in Alberta’s hospitals on April 11, with 48 in intensive care units (ICU). An average of five people in Alberta died with COVID-19 between April 5 and April 11.
The average positivity rate for PCR tests completed over the past seven days stands at 26.6 per cent, compared with 26.3 per cent the previous week.
Wastewater virus levels are trending upward in Calgary, Edmonton and in some smaller centres being monitored, Copping said.
“Let me be clear, the system remains very busy,” he said. “The whole system is busy and we are working to increase capacity across our entire system, in the ICUs, in surgery, in diagnostic imaging, in EMS, in continuing care and in home care.
“EMS remains under strain due to high call volumes and also delays in handing patients over in emergency because volumes in emergency are very high as well.”
During the press conference Copping said rapid test kits remain widely available in the province.
“I want to address the speculation that I’ve heard about Alberta’s rapid test program coming to an end at Alberta pharmacies,” he said. “These rumours are not correct. Free rapid tests continue to be available to all Albertans.
“We have an ample supply of testing kits and participating pharmacies continue to order them as needed to meet demand.”
As of April 12, more that 40 million rapid tests had been distributed in the province, he said.
With Omicron BA.2 continuing to be seen in the province, residents should be encouraged to take precautions such as hand washing during the upcoming Easter long weekend, Dr. Hinshaw said.
“We know that COVID-19 transmission is higher and is rising now, so it is prudent that people think about the gatherings that they want to participate in, knowing that indoor social gatherings create a higher risk for transmission if there is someone who is infectious who is present,” said Hinshaw.
David Shepherd is the NDP health critic. He issued a release following Wednesday’s COVID-19 update press conference.
“Hospitals remain above capacity and Albertans face greater risks with the rise of COVID-19 because of the UCP’s mismanagement of health care, their attempts to slash wages of health professionals and their ongoing efforts to drive doctors out of the province,” said Shepherd.