At least 15,000 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, Dr. Deena Hinshaw says

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Premier Jason Kenney and Dr. Deena Hinshaw delivered a COVID-19 update on Tuesday afternoon.  (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press, Art Raham/CBC - image credit)
Premier Jason Kenney and Dr. Deena Hinshaw delivered a COVID-19 update on Tuesday afternoon. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press, Art Raham/CBC - image credit)

Alberta has seen a precipitous rise in COVID-19 cases over the holidays, with officials warning that now is the time to stop the spread.

"This is spreading so fast and so far that individual case management will not substantially halt the spread," Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, told a news conference on Tuesday.

"We must be taking proactive measures every day, in every aspect of our lives, because we should be assuming that there is someone with Omicron, infectious, in any public place we might be going into right now.

A full update on COVID-19 numbers is promised for Wednesday, but Hinshaw shared estimates of new cases confirmed over the past five days.

  • Dec. 23: about 2,000 new cases on 11,500 tests

  • Dec. 24: about 2,500 new cases on 11,500 tests

  • Dec. 25: about 1,600 new cases on 7,200 tests

  • Dec. 26: about 750 new cases on 4,000 tests

  • Dec. 27: about 1,400 new cases on 6,500 tests

In Calgary and Edmonton, about one in three people being tested is testing positive, she said.

As of Tuesday, an estimated 323 Albertans were in hospital, including 50 in the ICU.

With the newest cases, there are at least 15,000 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta "that we know of," Hinshaw said, adding that the number does not include people who haven't been tested or who have confirmed their cases through rapid tests.

Watch | Alberta's top doctor says Omicron cases spreading too fast to ID with testing

During the fourth wave of the pandemic, an estimated one in six cases was confirmed through government testing. With rapid tests now available to many Albertans, Hinshaw said the proportion of confirmed cases is now likely even smaller.

The positivity rate over the past five days has ranged from between 17 per cent to 22 per cent across the province, some of the highest numbers seen since the start of the pandemic.

"This is one more data point that reinforces that Omicron is different than anything we have ever faced before," Hinshaw said, referring to the highly transmissible coronavirus variant.

'Very challenging' situation

Premier Jason Kenney said the spread in Alberta is reflective of what is happening around the world.

He said vaccination rates have left Alberta better positioned than it was during previous waves of COVID-19. As of Friday, 89.1 per cent of the eligible population aged 12 and up had received at least one dose.

"Despite these advances, the situation we are in today is very challenging," said Kenney, who urged Albertans to continue reducing their social contacts heading into New Year's Eve.

He said early data indicates that the severity of outcomes may be less for the Omicron variant, but if numbers reach an "unmanageable high," the health-care system is still at risk of being overwhelmed.

Kenney said the government is also reviewing whether to adjust the 10-day isolation protocol for vaccinated individuals with COVID-19.

He noted that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently changed its recommendation for a five-day isolation period followed by five days wearing masks in public if asymptomatic.

No final decisions have been made, he added.

Dominant strain in Alberta

Since the first case of Omicron in Alberta was announced on Nov. 30, it has spread to the point where it's considered the dominant strain in the province.

Last week, Alberta introduced several key changes aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 and mitigating the impact on hospitals.

Rapid test kits have been made widely available, the third-dose vaccine campaign has been expanded to include all adults and some public health restrictions were introduced. As well, Albertans have been urged to cut their social interactions in half.

The government also urged Albertans to avoid getting a PCR test if possible to preserve limited lab capacity for tracking outbreaks in high-risk settings such as continuing care.

Except for some priority groups such as health-care workers, the province now recommends rapid tests — instead of more accurate lab-based PCR tests — for people with symptoms.

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