Mandatory isolation, testing to continue indefinitely as Alberta COVID-19 cases rise

·3 min read
The Alberta government will continue to conduct COVID-19 testing past the Sept. 27 deadline announced last month.  (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
The Alberta government will continue to conduct COVID-19 testing past the Sept. 27 deadline announced last month. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

The Alberta government has cancelled plans to end the mandatory 10-day quarantine requirement for people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 later this month.

Other measures set to ramp down on Sept. 27 — including contact tracing and testing — will continue in their current form, Alberta Health spokesperson Chris Bourdeau said in an email on Sunday.

As well, Alberta will expand its wastewater testing program, which acts as an early warning system for a rise in COVID-19 cases, he said.

"Given the current increase in cases and hospitalizations, testing and mandatory isolation will continue until the province reaches a point where we can take this next step," he told CBC News.

"We will closely monitor how the latest measures announced on Sept. 3 affect hospital admissions and case counts before determining next steps."

On Friday, Premier Jason Kenney joined officials including Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, to announce measures including reinstated provincewide mandatory indoor masking, a 10 p.m. liquor curfew for licensed establishments, and $100 gift cards to people who receive their first or second dose of vaccine by Oct. 14.

Status quo

The decision to maintain the status quo comes several weeks after Hinshaw announced a six-week delay of measures that were originally set to take effect on Aug. 16.

The first announcement, on July 28, would have made the 10-day isolation period a recommendation rather than a requirement. Testing would have been moved from screening centres to doctors' offices.

The measures were met with strong criticism from physicians and the public.

That day, Alberta recorded 194 new cases of COVID-19, 84 hospitalizations and a positivity rate of 2.9 per cent but the effects of the delta variant were being felt. Since then, case numbers have increased dramatically.

At its most recent daily update on Friday, Alberta Health reported 1,401 new cases — for a total of 13,495 known active cases — and a positivity rate of 11.1 per cent.

Hospitals and intensive care units are overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, with 515 people hospitalized, including 118 in ICU beds. Provincewide, ICUs were at 95 per cent capacity on Friday; in Edmonton, the number reached 97 per cent.

Updated COVID-19 case and hospitalization numbers are expected to be released on Tuesday afternoon, and should include results of tests for Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

'Ridiculous idea'

Dr. Joe Vipond, a Calgary emergency room physician, said he is glad the province changed its mind to maintain testing and mandatory isolation.

"It was inevitable because of the situation that we're in," he said. "But let's be clear, this was a ridiculous idea in the first place."

Alberta has the lowest vaccination rates in Canada with only 70 per cent of eligible residents having two doses. The national average is 77.1 per cent.

Vipond said the province needs to do more to control the spread of COVID-19. He said Alberta needs to impose restrictions on mass gatherings, restrict indoor dining and extend the mandatory mask mandate for schools.

As for the wastewater testing program, Vipond said that is only useful when a jurisdiction has no active COVID cases.

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