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Covid-19: Alberta prepares for impact of Omicron wave

Alberta is reporting a record-high number of active Covid-19 cases, and is warning this will translate into higher hospitalizations in the days ahead.

According to the province, there are now 34,276 active cases of Covid-19 across Alberta. This is significantly higher than the previous peak of 25,438 cases on May 9, 2021.

The province also announced that a child between the ages of 5 to 9 died from Covid-19.

“We know that’s defined as people who had tested positive on a PCR test. But we know that the number is actually much higher with the positivity rate of 30 per cent,” said Premier Jason Kenney.

Premier Kenney called on Health Canada to grant emergency use of Pfizer’s antiviral Covid-19 medication to treat patients in the province.

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said that Alberta was looking at Ontario’s data for what the health care impact could look like here.

“We need look no further than Ontario’s current experience to understand why, with case counts far exceeding anything we have ever seen before, the sheer volume of cases means that daily hospitalizations are beginning to escalate,” she said.

Cabinet Covid meeting Wednesday

Premier Jason Kenney said that the cabinet Covid committee would be meeting again on Wednesday. They would review the latest Omicron data.

Premier Kenney said that they were looking at other nations and the health care outcomes from Omicron.

He said that if they determined more action was necessary, they would take them as a last resort.

“A lot of this data is still too early. Which is why we’re monitoring the situation very closely and if we determine that more action is necessary, we will take it,” he said.

The Premier said that he would be speaking to the Minister of Children’s Services Wednesday. They’ll discuss if additional supports would be needed for parents.

He said that the province could look at distributing additional PPE to child care facilities. The Premier said that these would not be N-95 grade masks.

“Look, the N-95’s are a lot more expensive. They’re about I think $3.25 apiece, versus about 80, 90 cents apiece for the medical-grade masks,” he said.

The Premier said that the advice the province has received from Dr. Hinshaw, and others, was that conventional medical masks could be very effective. He said that it was much more practical for the province to provide the less expensive medical grade masks to students.

Long-term sustainability of health care

Premier Kenney acknowledged that a rise in hospitalizations would occur as a result of Omicron cases.

"While Omicron is less severe at an individual level, even a small percentage of a very large number of people requiring hospital care can put our healthcare system under real pressure," he said.

The province now has 436 patients in hospital, and 61 of those patients in intensive care. This was a 36 per cent increase in the number of hospitalized patients. The previous low was 321 on Christmas day.

Dr. Hinshaw said that they did not have a ready breakdown of Omicron versus Delta patients in the hospital.

She called on Albertans to take critical action now for the long-term health of the health care system.

"Our frontline health care workers have experienced the trauma of repeated waves over the past two years, and each wave takes an additional toll. Our actions now will make a substantial difference to the resilience and capacity of our healthcare system," she said.

She indicated that staff burnout is occurring. As of Tuesday, there were 615 job postings on the AHS website in the nursing categories and 1,033 across all categories.

Dr. Hinshaw clarifies isolation rules

Last week, the province shortened the isolation period for fully vaccinated and asymptomatic Covid-19 patients from 10 days down to five. Asymptomatic patients, and patients who recovered by day five, would be able to leave isolation.

Dr. Hinshaw said that these people would be required to wear a mask at all times. They also aren't able to eat or drink in public for the remaining five days.

"I want to make perfectly clear that this reduction in isolation time applies only to people who have received at least a complete primary vaccine series and whose symptoms have resolved by five days," she said.

These changes were clarified to not include residents at continuing-care facilities, regardless of vaccine status.

If a patient of any age developed symptoms during their isolation period, or afterward, they would have to isolate for the full 10 day period.

"I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we will all be best served by acting in the next several weeks with the good of our communities in mind," said Dr. Hinshaw.

"It can be hard to do this. But the resilience of our healthcare system and health care providers is on the line."

Critical worker exemption

The details for the exemption for critical businesses were released in CMOH Order 01-2022.

The order exempted any person or class of persons where the owner, operator, sector or service determined that workers would be required for the continued safe operations of those services.

It also required that there be a substantive disruption of services also be harmful to the public.

She said that this was for businesses and services "absolutely critical" to public health and safety.

Workers brought back would not be allowed to end their isolation for any other purpose than work.

"That individual would be able to attend their workplace, however, they would still need to remain on isolation for any other purpose for the duration of the time period appropriate to their status based on symptoms, based on vaccination status, and other considerations that are built into that order," said Dr. Hinshaw.

Premier asks Albertans to limit in-person contact

Premier Kenney has reiterated his call for Albertans to voluntarily limit their in-person contacts.

"Ultimately, in a big, complicated, free society, four-and-a-half million people, it's going to be up to the voluntary efforts of the overall population to cut social contact," he said.

He asked that Albertans keep their get-togethers as small as possible. Albertans should use video conferencing instead of in-person meetings, and work from home whenever possible.

"We need to break transmission chains, and that means reducing opportunities for the virus to spread," said Premier Kenney.