Is Alberta about to have a COVID-19 upswing? We should know by the end of July

·3 min read
Hailey Slocombe, 21, receives a COVID-19 vaccine at an AHS site. As of Friday, 57.9 per cent of eligible Albertans (12 and up) had been fully immunized and 74.5 per cent had received at least one dose. (Submitted by Alberta Health Services - image credit)
Hailey Slocombe, 21, receives a COVID-19 vaccine at an AHS site. As of Friday, 57.9 per cent of eligible Albertans (12 and up) had been fully immunized and 74.5 per cent had received at least one dose. (Submitted by Alberta Health Services - image credit)

Two weeks after Alberta lifted virtually all of its public health restrictions, the province could be on the verge of an uptick in COVID-19 cases — driven this time by the more infectious delta variant.

Daily case counts, which had been hovering in the low 30s, have inched up over the last few days.

Alberta reported 53 new cases on Thursday and active cases increased slightly for the first time in weeks. On Friday, 41 new cases were reported.

Dr. Stephanie Smith, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta, said while numbers are still low, there are hints this could change.

"We very well may see the increases in numbers in the community, over the next probably one to three weeks related to [re-opening], plus larger gatherings such as the Stampede," she said, noting the vast majority of delta variant cases have been identified in Calgary.

"Even if there were only one or two or three people that were actually infected and at the Stampede, then that could certainly result in secondary cases."

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Delta now dominant

What is clear now, according to Smith, is the more transmissible delta variant has now firmly taken root.

"It is steadily creeping up. It is actually the predominant virus at this point in time in Alberta. The most recent statistics that I heard is that 43 per cent of our cases are now delta," she said.

The question is — will any new surge in cases overwhelm hospitals?

"I think that we could anticipate that we might see a little bit of an increase in community transmission. But what I think will be very telling is whether or not we're seeing that severe disease," Smith said.

"If we see a bit of an increase … but people aren't getting particularly ill with it — they're not coming into hospital — then I don't think it warrants the kinds of restrictions that we had in place previously."

Vaccination is key moving forward, according to experts. But immunization rates are slowing and Alberta is lagging behind many other provinces when it comes to first doses.

As of Friday, 74.5 per cent of eligible Albertans (ages 12 and up) have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot while 57.9 per cent had been fully immunized.

"I think the general public maybe is getting a bit complacent in that we can do so many things outdoors right now," said Shannon MacDonald, an associate professor in the faculty of nursing at the University of Alberta who studies immunization practise and policy.

"We need to get our coverage rates up — particularly with these new variants."

MacDonald said she believes only a small proportion of unimmunized Albertans are resistant to vaccines.

She said others may be less concerned about the virus because, for example, they live in rural areas where they're exposed to fewer people and believe their risk level is low.

"But the thing to remember is … it literally only takes one person to show up at church or a community event who maybe visited … another place and brought COVID back to the community," MacDonald warned. "And then you've got a whole pocket of vulnerable people who aren't vaccinated and COVID could just take off like wildfire.

"We've had a taste of normal this summer. Let's not give it up and go back to a life where we're all locked away in our houses. Let's get vaccinated and really get back to life as normal."

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