MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY — COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased in Alberta over the past week, with 1,267 patients in Alberta facilities on May 3, up slightly from 1,220 seven days ago, Minister of Health Jason Copping said during Wednesday’s COVID update news conference.
Of those the patients in hospital, 46 are in intensive care units, the same number as a week ago.
Sixty-nine people died from COVID in Alberta in the past week, compared with 62 during the previous week. The patients who died over the past week ranged in age from 28 to 103.
In all, 5,735 new cases of COVID-19 were identified in Alberta between Apr. 26 and May 2. The PCR testing positivity rate was 23 per cent, compared to 25.7 per cent last week.
“It looks like we are passing the peak of BA2 (variant) circulation, with less impact than we saw with BA1, thanks to vaccine and prior exposure, but hospital admissions are still rising and they will continue to rise for a few more weeks even assuming virus levels continue to decline,” said Copping.
The province is working to add capacity to the hospital system in response to possible future COVID waves, he said.
“We are doing that right across the system, from EMS to surgery to continuing care,” he said. “The reality is our hospitals and the system overall remains under significant stress. Occupancy at a few larger sites remains well over 100 per cent.”
Hospital staff also remain “under real strain and we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude,” he said. “I hope and expect that they will start to see some relief soon as the level of virus drops.”
During Wednesday’s press conference, Copping announced that all prescribers, including physicians, nurse practitioners and some pharmacists, can now prescribe Paxlovid antiviral medication to eligible patients.
As well, the province will now accept rapid tests in some circumstances for the purpose of confirming COVID-19 infection in order to prescribe Paxlovid, he said.
“I encourage eligible Albertans to reach out to their health-care provider or to AHS to determine whether this treatment is right for them,” he said. “We are making these changes to allow more Albertans to access Paxlovid.”
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta chief medical officer of health, also spoke during Wednesday’s press conference.
She said mental health supports for persons impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are available for anyone in need.
“Depression and anxiety in us or those we care about are just some of the ways these impacts can show up,” Hinshaw said. “If you or someone you know is having these struggles or if dealing with stress or uncertainty feels overwhelming or is interfering with daily life, I urge you to seek support.
“Free, non-judgmental support is available for anyone who needs it.”
As list of comprehensive resources for mental health support is available at alberta.ca/mentalhealth or at 211, she said.
“It takes courage to reach out for help and that help is there for you,” she said.
Hinshaw also spoke about the influenza situation in the province.
“We are experiencing a rise in seasonal influenza with levels higher than at any time in the past two years,” she said.
More than 700 cases of influenza have been diagnosed in the province, with most identified in the past two months, she said. Sixty-eight of those cases have required hospitalization.
Measures to reduce the spread of influenza are the same as with COVID, and include hand washing, staying home when sick and masking in public places, she said.