Gondek and Kenney offer differing visions for sixth wave Covid response

Sofia Flores Rojas, 9, sits with her mom Alejandra as she recieves a COVID-19 vaccine in Calgary, Alta., on November 26, 2021. LEAH HENNEL / AHS

Deja vu is what Calgary’s mayor Jyoti Gondek called the sixth wave of Covid-19 in Canada.

Following the latest update from Canada’s Chief Public Officer of Health, Dr. Theresa Tam, on Tuesday, the mayor responded to questions about whether there is a political appetite in Alberta for renewed public health measures.

“With Dr. Tam coming forward and saying that we’re in a sixth wave, I feel very much like it’s deja vu once again, where more than likely municipalities will ask the province for some action to ensure that we are keeping people safe,” said Gondek.

She said that with the province having amended the Municipal Government Act to prevent cities from enacting mask mandates without their authorization, there was a desire to see some sort of provincial response to rising numbers Covid infections.

“And if we don’t, I imagine there are some members of city council that will ask some questions about what we can do locally,” she said.

“Without the ability for the city to set that mandate, I encourage everyone to take precautions for their own best interest.”

Public health measures unlikely to come from the province

Premier Jason Kenney said on Wednesday, that the province was closely monitoring other jurisdictions in Europe and North America which are farther along the latest wave of Omicron sub-variant infections.

“While we certainly see a rise in infections and case counts and to some degree hospitalizations we have not witnessed in any European or North American jurisdiction, pressure on the hospital systems that is unsustainable,” he said.

“And I want to remind you that at least in Alberta, we have only ever used public health measures as a last and limited resort to avoid a catastrophe in the hospitals.”

The Premier said that he hasn’t seen any evidence to suggest the newest strain of Omicron in the province, BA.2, poses a threat to health care capacity in the province.

He said that it would be likely that the number of cases in Alberta would be manageable “without having to resort to public health measures.”

Kenney also said that he fully expects there to be future waves of Covid in Alberta beyond a sixth.

“That’s in the nature of a contagious respiratory virus like this,” he said.

Personal assessment of risk urged by CMOH

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said that with higher levels of transmission of Covid in the province, Albertans should be thinking about their risk over the Easter long weekend.

“So what I would recommend is that people consider who they’re going to be gathering with and consider what precautions are appropriate for those individuals,” she said.

She said that it was critical that anyone that’s feeling ill not attend gatherings. She also called on Albertans to potentially hold gatherings outdoors, depending on the weather.

Dr. Hinshaw said that it was still prudent to wear masks in public spaces. Dr. Hinshaw addressed what she uses, stating that she wears a medical-grade mask with people she doesn’t know personally. She uses double cloth masks in the workplace.

“So all of the things that we know that can reduce risk, just consider how those can be incorporated into those gatherings as we again want to keep the people that we care about safe, and our communities safe,” she said.

Rapid testing program to continue

Dr. Hinshaw also encouraged Albertans to continue to use rapid Covid tests.

Minister of Health Jason Copping addressed social media rumours that the province would be ending the rapid testing program.

“These rumours are not correct—free rapid tests continue to be available to all Albertans,” he said.

He said that not all pharmacies in the province were participating in the distribution program, or continued to participate because of administrative work required.

The province has updated its pharmacy compensation model from $5 per kit to $60 per case.

“The new fee reflects the fact that we eliminated almost all the administrative work for pharmacists who are providing these test kits to Albertans,” he said.

Minister Copping indicated that there has been an uptick in the number of kits ordered by pharmacies over the last week, and that information on availability could be found on the Alberta Blue Cross website. Albeit not in real-time.

BA.2 more infectious, but with similar severity profile as BA.1

In a statement released by Dr. Tam on Tuesday, she wrote that the BA.2 type of Omicron has a higher ability to infect individuals and evade the protection offered by one-or-two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.

“Currently, the BA.2 sub-lineage of the Omicron variant accounts for 61 per cent of recent viruses sequenced in Canada and is steadily increasing,” she wrote.

Dr. Hinshaw said that over 80 per cent of detected cases in Alberta were of the BA.2 type. She fell short of calling the rise in transmission in Alberta a sixth wave.

“The magnitude of this rise, and how long it will last: those are questions we don’t know the answers to yet,” she said.

“Whatever we term it, whether it’s called a six wave or whether we’re talking about just the the rise in transmission we’ve seen, we certainly all know the kinds of things that can help protect ourselves and those around us.”

Within Alberta, hospitalization counts have risen from a low of 929 patients in hospital, including 41 in the ICU to 1053 in hospital, including 48 in ICU.

Calgary has seen increasing counts of Covid-19 detected within wastewater, according to data collected by the University of Calgary’s Centre for Health Informatics.

The centre’s three-day rolling average of counts for the city is at approximately 38 per cent of the level seen at the peak of the previous wave in the city. The current three-day average level is approximately four times higher than the previous lowest point on March 7.

Minister Copping said that the province has observed rising wastewater counts across most areas of the province.

During the height of the last wave, hospitalizations in the province rose from a low of 320 in total on December 25, 2021 to 1,678 on February 7, 2022.

A total of 728 Albertans died from Covid-19 infections between December 10, 2021 and March 10, 2022. These dates represented the lowest 7-day rolling averages of daily cases in Alberta between the fourth, fifth, and sixth waves.

To date, 4,141 number of Albertans have died during the pandemic from Covid. An additional 37 people from this time last week.

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