Alberta reported 339 new cases COVID-19 on Wednesday and six new deaths from the illness.
Testing has confirmed another 16 cases of people infected with highly contagious variants of the coronavirus, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, announced at a news conference.
Across the province, 421 people are being treated for the illness in hospitals, including 77 in ICU beds.
"While this is well below our peak in December, it is still about five to seven times higher than our total during the spring and summer," Hinshaw said of the hospitalization numbers.
"We will continue to watch these numbers, as well as our leading indicators of positivity rate, case numbers and growth rate, over the next few weeks."
As of Wednesday, Alberta had confirmed 120 total cases of variants of two coronavirus strains first identified in the United Kingdom and in South Africa. The variants pose an elevated risk because they can spread more easily than the original COVID-19 virus.
2 variant cases linked to 1 classroom
The 16 new variant cases detected in the province includes two cases linked to a school, Hinshaw said.
"We were informed today that there are now two cases of variant COVID-19 where in-school transmission is likely the source," she said. "I am aware of seven classes in six schools overall where a variant case has attended while infectious."
This marks the first time where the province has identified variant transmission inside a school, Hinshaw said.
"The two cases were from the same exposure, so same class," she said. "And at this time I'm not certain whether everyone involved in that exposure has been contacted, so at this time we're not releasing the zone name."
The variant cases poses no additional danger to people who live nearby, Hinshaw said.
"I would direct people in general back to that overall number [of cases], which is the more important number from a public health and risk standpoint," she said.
"With respect to how concerned I am about the fact that there is this transmission in schools ... with this variant we've seen transmission within a few different settings.
More variant clusters
"As we've mentioned previously, we've seen transmission in a daycare, now in a school. We're looking into some other potential clusters. We've seen significant in-household transmission, which isn't surprising, that's a dominant mode of transmission of the common strain as well.
"So ultimately, what we really need to do is make sure that all of us, every day, are following the COVID protocols, that we're identifying these variant cases rapidly, putting protections in place around the contacts to prevent further spread.
"So this particular incident of transmission in school is, again, one of many reasons why I am concerned about the variant. But I don't think it changes the threshold beyond the other locations where we have identified spread."
Health officials are making sure that anyone who is at risk is in quarantine and being offered testing twice, Hinshaw said.
"Just as our currently dominant strain of COVID-19 occasionally spreads in school, we will identify occasional examples of variant transmission as we are sharing today," she said.
"However, knowing about variant cases means we can limit further spread, and the majority of in-school exposures so far have not led to transmission."
Variants data now online
The province has begun publishing detailed data about the new variants, updating the numbers posted online daily.
As of Wednesday, there were 53 in the Calgary health zone, 41 in the Edmonton zone and 19 in the Central zone.
The province now has 5,706 active cases of COVID-19. A regional breakdown of those cases was:
Calgary zone: 2,269
Edmonton zone: 1,705
Central zone: 674
South zone: 326
North zone: 722
More than 130,000 doses of vaccine have been administered so far, Hinshaw said, and about 71 per cent of residents in long-term care and designated support-living facilities have now been fully immunized with two doses.