The Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary is dealing with several COVID-19 outbreaks, including 20 cases of the rapidly spreading delta variant, or B.1.617.2, in two units.
A total of 25 patients and four health-care workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in four units, according to Alberta Health Services, with 16 of those patients and all four health-care workers testing positive for the variant.
AHS said it appears that all but the first case were acquired in hospital.
The two units with the delta variant outbreaks — a general medicine unit and a neuro-rehabilitation unit — have put new admissions and out-transfers on hold temporarily. There have been no new cases at one of those units since May 20, and no new symptomatic patients at the other unit as of Tuesday morning.
"Management and caregivers on the affected units have been instructed to exercise extra vigilance with respect to PPE and fit-for-work screening," AHS told CBC News in an email.
Because the delta variant is more transmissible and may cause more severe illness, there are concerns among some experts that it could cause a fourth wave of the pandemic.
Part of the worry is prompted by research in the U.K. that found one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines are only about 30 per cent effective against the delta variant.
Craig Jenne, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Calgary, says it's not surprising to see outbreaks of the delta variant at a hospital, but it is a bit worrisome given that it's more transmissible.
"The good news is, once we get people fully vaccinated, two shots, the protection is actually quite good against this variant," he said.
"It's highlighting that although we've got fantastic vaccine coverage, approaching 70 per cent on first doses, we really need people to get that second dose to limit the spread of these new viral variants, such as delta."
'This virus ... won't rest'
Cameron Westhead with the United Nurses of Alberta said the variant outbreaks are taking a toll on the health-care system.
"To see outbreaks happening at this stage of the pandemic, it just goes to show that this virus … won't rest. It will always make sure to keep us on our toes and we have to take every measure we can to protect ourselves from it," he said.
Westhead said the extra precautions needed for the multiple coronavirus strains has the potential to create a backlog, but said he has faith in nurses' ability to ensure patients are cared for at a high standard.
He said the impacts of variants doesn't come as a surprise, and that these outbreaks highlight the need for people to be immunized and for the government to be cautious about reopening.
"Infectious disease experts have been warning us for quite some time now about the impact of the variants. At the same time, we've sort of seen the provincial government downplay the severity of the pandemic … we're in the mood that we're ready to reopen and the pandemic is behind us, but this just shows that we need to be extremely vigilant," he said.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Tuesday there are now 193 delta variant cases in the province, but that only five per cent of variants of concern identified last week were the delta variant.
"The bottom line is that while any new variant is a concern, we can still work together to stop transmission. Albertans can help by getting vaccinated," the province's chief medical officer of health said.
Other acute care outbreaks
There are also COVID-19 outbreaks at six other acute care facilities in Alberta. The University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton has outbreaks on two units, with five patients testing positive for COVID-19.
And there are single-unit outbreaks at these facilities:
North Zone: Athabasca Healthcare Centre, Bonnyville Health Centre, Queen Elizabeth II Regional Hospital.
Central Zone: Killam Health Centre, Tofield Health Centre.
Calgary Zone: South Health Campus.
"Outbreak control measures have been implemented on each of the affected units. Any patient with symptoms, or who has tested positive for COVID-19, is isolated and treated in designated rooms," AHS said in a release.
"All at-risk patients on each unit have been tested. Contact tracing for patients and health-care workers potentially exposed to these individuals is ongoing."
AHS said patients being discharged will be given guidance on isolation and there will be followups from public health. Patients who have no place to isolate will be provide with accommodations in a designated isolation hotel.