Alberta expands access to COVID-19 treatment, with new test criteria and more prescribers

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Health Minister Jason Copping and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, updated Albertans about COVID-19 Wednesday. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta, Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Health Minister Jason Copping and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, updated Albertans about COVID-19 Wednesday. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta, Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Alberta government has doubled down on its efforts to get the COVID-19 treatment to eligible Albertans, by loosening its testing criteria and expanding the number of health-care professionals who can prescribe it.

The requirement for eligible Albertans to have a positive PCR test result to get a prescription for Paxlovid has been changed. Now in some circumstances, a positive result on a rapid test will be acceptable, Health Minister Jason Copping announced Wednesday at a news conference.

As well, the treatment can now be prescribed by physicians, nurse practitioners and some pharmacists.

"This change will make it faster and easier to access the drug and begin treatment," Copping said.

Paxlovid is a treatment given to adults with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19, but who are at higher risk of hospitalization or death.

While a PCR test is still preferred, people can access the treatment with a positive result from a rapid test that was administered by the prescriber. They could also take a rapid test at home, then have result confirmed by the prescriber , Copping said.

The change will be gradual to ensure people prescribing the medication are comfortable doing so, said a government news release.

Albertans who do not have a family doctor, or whose health-care provider is not eligible to prescribe Paxlovid, can access it through Alberta Health Services, the release said.

69 more COVID-19 deaths

Another 69 COVID-19 deaths were reported in Alberta from April 26 to May 2, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, said at Wednesday's news conference.

The people who died ranged in age from 28 to 102, Hinshaw said.

There have now been 4,321 deaths in Alberta since the pandemic started, provincial data shows.

Meanwhile, the number of Albertans in hospital with COVID-19 continued to rise.

Data shows there are 1,267 people in hospital, including 46 patients admitted to the intensive care unit.

Last week, there were 1,220 in hospital, including 47 in ICU.

The seven-day PCR test-positivity rate is 22.98 per cent, which is down from 25.75 per cent one week ago.

There were 5,754 new COVID-19 cases reported in the past week. However, that number only represents positive results from PCR tests, which are not available to most Albertans.

Influenza on the rise: Hinshaw

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is being complicated with a rise in flu cases being seen in Alberta and across Canada, Hinshaw said.

More than 700 Albertans have been diagnosed with flu this season, most of whom were reported within the last two months, Hinshaw said.

Of those people, 68 went to hospital, including three who were admitted to ICU, she said.

"We are experiencing a rise in seasonal influenza with levels higher than they have been at any time in the past two years," she said.

Measures people can take to prevent spreading the flu are similar to those that prevent COVID-19 transmission, she said, including proper hand washing, staying home when sick and wearing masks in public places.

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