Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Tuesday, Jan. 11

·7 min read
Alberta is now limiting PCR testing for COVID-19 to people with risk factors for severe outcomes and those who live or work in high-risk setting (Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)
Alberta is now limiting PCR testing for COVID-19 to people with risk factors for severe outcomes and those who live or work in high-risk setting (Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Daily case counts have never been perfect, but at this point in the Omicron-driven wave, they're a deeply flawed metric. Throughout the pandemic, the case counts have been based on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing done by provincial bodies like Alberta Health Services, but those testing protocols have shifted to prioritize high-priority groups and people in higher risk settings, like health-care workers. So there are likely to be thousands of cases going untested, or tested but not reported, since there is no system for cataloguing at-home rapid antigen tests.

As a result, CBC News will de-emphasize case counts in our coverage, in favour of data and metrics that experts now say are more illuminating — such as COVID-19 hospitalizations and intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, which help us understand Omicron's impact on the health-care system and severity of illness it causes, as well as the testing positivity rate, which if it starts to level out and come down could indicate the wave has peaked.

The latest:

  • Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw posted on Twitter Tuesday that the expected supply of at-home rapid test kits for the province has been delayed. She said Alberta Health is working to obtain more supply as soon as possible.

  • The first priority for the rapid tests is distribution in schools.

  • Many Albertans have been struggling in the past two weeks to get their hands on rapid antigen tests. The tests were first available on a widespread basis before the holidays and Albertans can access them for free on a first-come, first-serve basis through participating pharmacies and AHS locations.

The latest COVID-19 numbers:

  • Alberta COVID-19 infections are at record highs as the highly infectious Omicron variant spreads through the province. The following numbers were released Jan. 11:

  • Hospitalizations:

    • There were 708 people with COVID in Alberta hospitals on Jan. 11. The previous week, there were 523 infected patients in hospital.

    • There were 80 people with COVID in intensive care, compared with last week when there were 54.

    • Provincial ICU capacity (including additional surge beds) is now at 80 per cent. Without the additional surge spaces, provincial ICU capacity would be at 112 per cent.

    • Alberta could see record COVID-19 hospitalizations within weeks, according to projections from Alberta Health Services' COVID-19 early warning system.

    • Emerging data from other jurisdictions indicates Omicron may not hit intensive care units as the Delta variant did but will likely impact other areas of the health-care system in emergency wards and ambulatory care.

    • Dr. Eddy Lang, department head of emergency medicine in the Calgary zone, estimates about 10 per cent of all hospitalized patients in Calgary zone are positive for Omicron. Roughly half of them are there to be treated for other conditions and happen to test positive. But those patients need to be isolated from others within the hospital which takes additional resources, time and space.

  • Positivity rates:

    • Alberta's positivity rate on Jan. 11 was around 38 per cent, much higher than seen in earlier waves.

    • The province reported eight more COVID deaths on Jan. 11. A total of 3,352 people have died of the virus in Alberta.

  • Case counts:

    • There were 4,704 new cases reported Jan. 11.

    • There are officially 58,613 active reported cases in the province based on cases confirmed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing through Alberta Health Services — but the true figure is thought to be far higher due to the high positivity rates and reductions in testing.

Acute care outbreaks:

  • There are four hospitals in the north zone, seven hospitals in the Edmonton zone, four hospitals in the central zone, four in the Calgary zone and one in the south zone affected.

  • Drumheller Health Centre, one of the hospitals affected, has temporarily postponed inpatient surgical procedures due to the outbreak at the centre, AHS said Jan. 11. Day surgeries will continue as scheduled.

School reopenings:

  • Students in Alberta headed back to class on Jan. 10. Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has promised thousands of test kits and medical-grade masks will be delivered to students and parents over the next few days.

  • The winter break for K-Grade 12 students was extended to Jan. 10 as COVID-19 case numbers surged.

  • Because of the disruption to learning, January diploma exams have been cancelled.

  • Students in grades 4 to 9 will be able to access free, prerecorded, online tutoring resources starting this week to help them catch up on skills and learning they may have missed.

  • Later this year, that tutoring will be expanded to more subjects and will include live tutoring.

  • School authorities will continue to be able to shift classes or grades to at-home learning for short periods of time to address outbreaks.

  • Daycares remain open.

  • The Omicron variant prompted several post-secondary institutions across the province to return to online learning for the first few weeks of the winter term.

Testing:

  • Hinshaw says with the positivity rate near 40 per cent, transmission is higher than it's ever been before and the province likely has 10 times or more COVID-19 cases than are being diagnosed through PCR tests.

Wastewater monitoring:

  • As the Alberta government scales back on widespread PCR testing to focus on those in high-priority settings, the province is now relying on wastewater surveillance more than ever before to track the prevalence of COVID-19 in Alberta.

  • The province's wastewater — and the amount of infection in it — has been monitored for two years by a group of 23 researchers in a joint project with the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta.

  • It depicts the amount of SARS-CoV-2 RNA — the virus that causes COVID-19 — that's in the province's wastewater.

  • The virus is shed in peoples' feces before symptoms arise, so values in the data associate strongest with cases occurring six days after the samples are collected.

  • Dr. Michael Parkins, one of the research leads, said on Jan. 7 that it's important not to overinterpret individual data points, such as apparent drops in infection, but rather understand trends over time.

  • "Our data trends up, up, up.... I don't think we've seen the peak yet," he said.

Isolation times:

  • As of Jan. 3, people with at least two doses of vaccine who test positive for COVID-19 need to isolate for only five days instead of 10.

    • If symptoms continue past five days, fully vaccinated people must continue to isolate until feeling better.

    • If they're symptom free after five days, they must wear a mask around others at all times when they're outside their home.

    • The change does not apply to people who aren't fully vaccinated, who must continue to isolate for 10 days or until their symptoms end, whichever is longer.

    • Copping said the change followed evidence that suggests fully immunized people have shorter infectious periods.

    • This change also follows the approach taken by Ontario and some other provinces, as well as the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control in the United States, Copping said.

    • Exceptions will be provided for workplaces where disruption of service for 24 hours or more would be harmful to the public, and where there is no other way to continue the service except by bringing workers back before their isolation period has ended, Copping said.

    • In these circumstances, additional public health measures will be required. For example, Copping said returning workers would not be allowed to remove their masks when in the same room as anyone else at any time.

Health restrictions:

Vaccinations:

  • The province said as of Jan. 3, more than one million people have had a booster shot. But an additional two million Albertans have received their first two doses and are eligible for a booster. Anyone aged 18 and older who received their second COVID-19 vaccine at least five months ago is being urged to book a booster dose.

Which regions are being hit hardest:

Here is the latest detailed regional breakdown of active cases, as reported by the province on Jan. 11:

  • Calgary zone: 28,191.

  • Edmonton zone: 21,321.

  • Central zone: 3,302.

  • North zone: 2,529.

  • South zone: 2,446.

  • Unknown: 824.

COVID in Alberta in charts and graphs:

COVID-19 patients in Alberta hospitals

COVID-19 test positivity rate in Alberta

COVID-19 deaths in Alberta by date of death (where known)

New COVID-19 cases in Alberta

Active COVID-19 cases in Alberta

Vaccination rate by province and territory

Active COVID-19 cases by province & territory

Here are the latest Alberta COVID-19 stories:

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