Alberta may be on verge of turning point in Omicron transmission, health minister says

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

Alberta is seeing early signs that the transmission of the Omicron variant may be slowing, Health Minister Jason Copping said Tuesday.

"It means, I hope, we are at a turning point in the current wave and we can start to see the end of it," Copping said at a news conference.

"But make no mistake, the coming weeks are going to be the toughest yet for many Albertans and for the people working in core inpatient units in our hospitals."

As in previous waves during the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital admissions will lag behind new cases so while cases seem to be going down, admissions to hospitals continue to rise, he said.

"Our hospitals are under strain, especially in the larger urban centres," he said. "Staff are tired, not just from the current wave of cases, but from five waves over two years.

"We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude. But I also want to be clear that the health system is there for you if you need it and it is safe."

As of Tuesday's update, 1,377 people infected with COVID-19 were in Alberta hospitals, the highest total seen since the pandemic began in March 2020. There are 111 people in intensive care, three more than on Monday.

Thirteen new deaths were reported to Alberta Health over past 24 hours. There have now been 3,483 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The testing positivity rate is 42.8 per cent.

As of Jan. 24, 18 of the more than 2,500 schools in Alberta have shifted to temporary at-home learning to address operational challenges, said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta chief medical officer of health.

Five of the 18 have an enrolment of fewer than 40 students total, Hinshaw said.

"This means that less than one per cent of schools are on temporary at-home learning. All requests to shift to at-home learning have been approved."

The pressure on the health-care system has seen the province bring in hundreds of student nurses to care for COVID-19 patients. Pandemic response units are opening to provide overflow capacity.

In a statement to CBC News, an Alberta Health Services spokesperson confirmed that a pandemic response unit in Edmonton will be prepared to admit patients by Thursday.

Orientation for staff at the Kaye Edmonton Clinic began Monday, spokesperson Kerry Williamson said.

The unit in Edmonton will open with 18 beds initially, with plans to open another 18 beds, if required, the week of Jan. 31.

In Calgary, a pandemic response unit at the South Health Campus could be activated in the coming weeks, Williamson said.

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