About 4,000 new cases reported; concerns rise over lack of response

The new cases come from a positivity of about 30 percent

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Alberta reported a new pandemic of about 4,000 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday as hospitalization rates continue to rise.

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Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s planned COVID-19 update was postponed to Friday due to a meeting with the province’s COVID-19 cabinet committee to discuss “the latest developments and trends with the Omicron variant.” Instead, the province released only preliminary estimates of new data.

“Decisions are pending and an update will be given tomorrow,” Alberta Health spokeswoman Lisa Glover said in an email to Postmedia.

The new cases come from a positivity of about 30 percent. The total number of provincial cases was last reported on Wednesday at 17,396, although the number is likely to be underreported as most Albertans are told to avoid PCR testing to confirm a positive test result.

The admission rate increased for a fifth day. There are now 371 Albertans in the hospital with COVID-19, up from 349. However, admissions to intensive care units fell – there are now 48 Albertans in the intensive care unit with the virus compared to 57 on Wednesday.

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Dr. Shazma Mithani, an emergency room physician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, said it was too early to say what effect Omicron would have on Alberta’s hospitalization rates, but a worrying pattern has emerged.

“As soon as the wave starts to fall, people who have neglected to come in with their significant non-COVID-related medical conditions get sicker,” Mithani said.

“The problem this time is that there was very, very little break between the fourth wave and the fifth wave. The concern is that if the two things coincide, it will only exacerbate the amounts we see in the hospital.”

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Jason Kenney said the Alberta government was considering lowering the isolation requirements from 10 days to five days for fully vaccinated individuals following revised recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Ontario introduced the new five-day requirement Thursday.

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Mithani said she is also concerned that lowering the isolation requirements could result in further shortages of health workers.

“If I’m contagious at the end of day 5 and I spread it to three of my colleagues, they have to take time off work. It can actually end up having a ripple effect,” she said.

“If we’re in a situation where healthcare professionals start getting COVID and need to isolate, we’ll very quickly see a staffing crisis.”

Relying on rapid antigen tests for the majority of Albertans will also prevent health officials from knowing where the transmission is coming from, she said. Quick tests can also show a negative result one day, but a positive result the next.

“It clearly shows that there are pitfalls with the quick tests and the potential for people to be falsely reassured by a negative test.”

When administered properly, rapid tests can identify 75 to 80 percent of infections in people who experience symptoms. For people without symptoms, rapid tests can identify 20 to 60 percent of infections, according to the province.

“Antigen tests are less sensitive than PCR tests. This means they can be negative even when someone is infected. For this reason, even if someone gets a negative result on a quick antigen test, they should continue to follow all guidelines for public health, “Glover said in an email.

As case numbers with Omicron rise, Mithani said the Alberta government needs to do more to slow down transmission.

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For example, the province’s 50 percent capacity limit on entertainment, event and recreation facilities still allows about 10,000 hockey fans to crowd inside the Saddledome. Meanwhile, the Quebec government shut down personal participation in Montreal Canadiens matches to slow the spread of COVID-19 earlier this month.

“If we continue to allow thousands of people to go to a hockey game, or hundreds of people to go to a bar or a wedding, it will make no difference. Further community action is needed.”

On New Year’s Eve, Glover said the province encourages all Albertans to follow the health rules in place, whether it be restrictions at a business or event or a social gathering at home.

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“We have asked Albertans to look at ways to reduce their social interactions by 50 percent. It is important that Albertans reduce personal social interactions as much as possible right now. Most importantly, whatever the plan, stay home or cancel if you in any way you feel uncomfortable. ”

Albertans should be careful about relying on quick tests for social gatherings, especially ahead of New Year’s Eve, Mithani said. She urged to limit contacts as much as possible and avoid places with large crowds indoors, along with using other tools such as good hand hygiene and properly fitted respirators or medical masks.

“Make sure you only make smart decisions and think about the people around you, not just yourself.”

bgervais@postmedia.com

Twitter: @BrittGervaisAB

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