COVID-19 Updates: Protecting Albertans from the Omicron variant.
Check against delivery.
Thank you, Premier and good afternoon, everyone.
Today, I will provide an update on COVID-19 in our province over the holidays.
I’ll be sharing approximate numbers as our surveillance teams are still verifying the exact figures, which will be posted to alberta.ca tomorrow with a complete update.
What this means is that the numbers today are estimates and they have not gone through the rigorous quality assurance processes that our teams use before updating our online dashboard.
That process will be completed before the update is posted tomorrow, so the numbers may change slightly.
I know that we have all been used to regular updates on COVID-19 numbers, and it can be hard to wait.
But I also want to emphasize that every province in Canada has adjusted reporting over the holidays since our teams have been working for almost two years straight, and their ability to take a few days off is a critical way to express our appreciation for their hard work.
Before I get to the numbers, I want to clarify some questions I’ve been getting about the use of rapid tests for those who have symptoms.
First of all, I want to be clear that if someone has symptoms like a cough, runny nose, sore throat or fever, they should stay home and away from others.
At this point, with the transmission we are seeing in the province, these symptoms create a high likelihood of COVID-19.
If this individual has a rapid test and if that test is positive, they only need to get a confirmatory PCR test if they live or work in a setting like continuing care, correctional facilities, acute care, or shelters, or if they have risk factors that make them eligible for antibody treatment – these risk factors are listed online.
Others who have a positive rapid test, including children who have no medical risk factors, do not need PCR confirmation.
What is critical to understand is what to do if you have symptoms and a negative rapid test. Rapid tests are not as sensitive as PCR tests, which means that if you have symptoms, you should stay home and away from others until you feel better, even if you have multiple negative rapid tests.
Please do not spend time with others if you are feeling sick, no matter what a rapid test result shows.
And if you’re sick, and you are in one of the high risk groups I mentioned earlier, it is best to go straight to booking a PCR test as it will be more accurate in diagnosing COVID than a rapid test.
Turning to the numbers…
On December 23rd, approximately 2,000 new cases of COVID-19 were identified and about 11,500 tests were completed.
On December 24th, approximately 2,500 new cases were identified and about 11,500 tests were completed.
On December 25th, around 1,600 new cases were identified out of 7,200 tests.
On December 26th, we had approximately 750 new cases out of about 4,000 tests.
And yesterday, as you heard, we had approximately 1,400 new identified out 6,500 tests.
Our positivity rate over the past five days has ranged from around 17 per cent to 22 per cent.
And as you heard earlier, we have never before had a higher positivity rate than just over 13% in any of our previous waves. This is one more data point that reinforces that Omicron is different from anything we have ever faced before.
In Calgary and Edmonton, about one out of every three people going for tests is testing positive.
That is why anyone who feels ill at this point should stay home and away from others until they are feeling better.
All together now we have about 15,000 active cases in Alberta that we know of.
This does not take into account those who have not been tested or those who may have tested positive on a rapid antigen test and are following our guidance to free up PCR capacity for others by not going for confirmation.
Despite this spike in new cases, our hospitalizations are remaining relatively stable at this time.
However, from previous waves, we know that hospitalizations are a lagging indicator, and that today’s cases will take time to reflect in any acute care numbers.
In our fourth wave with Delta, we didn’t see a steep increase in ICU admissions until about a month after our cases began to climb sharply.
What this means is we will not know the impact that Omicron will have on our acute care system until later in January, but the trajectory for that is being set right now.
We will likely see our hospitalizations rise in the coming weeks due to the exponential growth of the Omicron variant in our province. While it seems from other countries that have had more time with Omicron that there is a reduction in severity, the degree to which this happens is not yet clear.
Even if it causes a lower risk of serious illness for an individual to be infected with Omicron, there could still be a significant impact on our hospital system due to the substantial rise in cases.
The problem is we simply don’t know. And our opportunity to slow case growth is right now.
We will not have information on any deaths reported over the holidays until tomorrow’s update.
But I would like to extend my sympathies to anyone who is mourning the loss of someone they loved, no matter the cause.
Navigating grief can be even more challenging during holidays and I want to remind you that there are resources available 24/7 at ahs.ca/helpintoughtimes, or by calling 811.
You are not alone, and help is there whenever you need it.
I know that all of us are sick and tired of having to think about COVID-19. I would not ask us to continue to do so if it weren’t still important. We cannot stop Omicron, but we can slow it down and that means making choices every day to keep transmission as low as possible.
This includes getting our vaccines, whatever dose we are eligible for, and whichever type of vaccine is available to us first.
I have now received one dose each of AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna vaccines. And I want to reassure Albertans that using vaccines in this way is safe and effective.
I would like to be clear that Pfizer and Moderna use the same mRNA technology and both offer a high level of protection against COVID-19, particularly against severe outcomes.
In fact, some evidence shows Moderna may be even more effective, and I encourage all Albertans to take advantage of whichever vaccine is available to them, rather than waiting for their preferred brand to be available.
In addition to getting our vaccines, as the Premier mentioned, it’s critical right now that we follow the restrictions in place.
Given the busy nature of the season, I want to remind Albertans of the additional restrictions that went into effect last Friday for businesses and venues participating in the Restrictions Exemption Program. Please read the materials online about these changes to see the details and to make any necessary adjustments in your place of business.
I also want to be clear that the restrictions apply to New Years Eve parties that might be held at community leagues, halls, or other similar venues that are serving alcohol or food.
I want to acknowledge the staff, operators and owners of REP establishments for once again adjusting to the change in restrictions and following them to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
If you go to any of these venues, please follow the rules and respect the staff who are simply trying to do their job and keep everyone there safe.
After another year of working diligently to limit transmission and protect one another from COVID-19, I know that seeing Omicron arrive is a frustrating development.
It proves that despite our best efforts, the virus continues to pose a threat and there is still work to be done to conquer this both here and around the world.
That’s why I urge Albertans to keep their circles small and in-person social interactions low as we head into the New Year.
While the maximum for indoor gatherings is 10 adults, the smaller the gathering and the fewer get-togethers you attend, the better.
Be sure to stay home or cancel if you’re feeling sick or have any of the COVID symptoms including sore throat, runny or congested nose, cough, fever, or loss of smell or taste.
As we move through the last few days of 2021, I ask you to take time to focus on what really matters to you. For me, this includes family, friends, and the communities that I am a part of.
I encourage all of us to reach out to let people know we care about them, and to think of ways that we can support them, for those who need a lift right now. The next few months will be challenging but we can and will get through this.
Thank you and we’re happy to take questions.