COVID-19 Updates: Protecting Albertans from the Omicron variant.
Checked against delivery.
Thank you, Chris and good afternoon, everyone.
Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 5,384 cases of COVID-19, and completed about 13,879 tests. Our positivity rate for lab-confirmed COVID is about 38 per cent.
There are currently 635 people being treated for COVID-19 in hospital, including 72 in the ICU.
I want to note that starting today, our historical ICU numbers may look a little different for a few dates in the past.
As we have been doing continual quality assurance work with our data, it was identified over time, some units in some hospitals have shifted back and forth between being available for use as an ICU unit or a non-ICU unit.
In some of our historical data, patients admitted for COVID treatment were categorized as being in ICU when the unit they were on had in fact been changed back to a non-ICU unit at that time. The adjustments you will see in historical data today now reflect correctly the type of care those patients were provided – this means you will see a decrease in ICU numbers at some points in time with a corresponding increase in non-ICU numbers.
The updates do not change the significant pressure that the system has experienced in each of our previous waves, this is simply an adjustment as we continue to be committed to transparency in our reporting.
Sadly, six new deaths have been reported to us since January 6.
My deepest sympathies are with the loved ones of these Albertans and anyone else who haslost a loved one , no matter the cause.
With our recent increase of Omicron cases, demand for PCR testing has pushed our testing system beyond its capacity.
As many Albertans have found, just getting an appointment for a swab takes several days, and the time to get results back is now close to 48 hours after the swab is taken.
While we have used widespread PCR testing to manage COVID-19 in previous waves, this approach is just not possible with the Omicron variant.
In order to ensure that patient care decisions are supported by timely diagnostic information, PCR testing eligibility will now be focused on those with clinical risk factors for severe outcomes and those who live or work in high-risk settings.
Effective immediately, PCR tests will be available for only those in specific categories. The full list can be found on our website, but some examples include:
- Continuing care residents, health care workers and staff in acute and continuing care settings, shelters and correctional facilities;
- Symptomatic household members of a person who works in continuing or acute care;
- Individuals with any degree of symptoms who have risk factors that would make them qualify for monoclonal antibody treatment if positive for COVID-19 – this list is available on the website, and includes those with significant immunocompromising conditions;
- All residents and workers from isolated and remote First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities;
- Returning international travellers who become symptomatic within 14 days after their arrival so we can monitor for new variants;
- And hospital or emergency department patients of any age who are ill enough that COVID testing would change treatment plans;
I want to specifically note that going to an emergency department does not make someone eligible for a PCR test, so please do not go to emergency unless you are sick enough to really need urgent treatment. Going for mild symptoms will not make you eligible for a PCR test.
This change is not unique to Alberta. All other provinces, including but not limited to Quebec, BC and Ontario, are currently limiting their PCR testing programs to specific categories to help manage with the Omicron wave.
In fact, we are asking those who are not eligible for PCR testing, who do not fit in one of the categories I have just outlined to please cancel testing appointments that may have previously been booked.
Please call 811 or go online to cancel your testing appointment.
It’s not enough to simply not show up -- because that slot could be used for a critical, at-risk case and only by actively cancelling your appointment can you make room for them.
The Omicron variant is so prevalent in our communities right now that, if you have COVID-19 symptoms such as a stuffy or runny nose, cough, fever, sore throat, or loss of sense of smell or taste, you should assume you have COVID-19 and are legally required to isolate.
Please stay home and away from others for 5 or 10 days depending on your vaccination status, or until your symptoms improve, whichever is longer.
You can take a rapid test if you have one, but for most people with mild illness, a test is not necessary and symptoms can be managed at home.
AHS has updated their COVID assessment tool to help Albertans determine whether they need and are eligible for a PCR test, what type of care to seek based on symptoms, and how to take care of symptoms at home with appropriate support.
The tool is available at ahs.ca/covidscreen. It should be used even before you call 811.
This is a screening version for adults. And one for children will be available later this week.
If you are otherwise healthy and without risk factors, please use this screening tool and rapid tests if available to confirm your symptoms, and self-isolate and manage your illness at home.
If you need further information on how to manage COVID-19 at home, AHS has also developed a guide available at ahs.ca/covidselfcare. In addition, the Alberta Medical Association has a resource available on their albertadoctors.org website under COVID-19 that can help determine when you may need to talk to your doctor.
It is not always necessary to get in touch with your doctor, as most people with mild symptoms can manage at home with no problems. Please have a look at the resources available to you if you are feeling sick to know what best to do.
I want to take a moment to thank the many Albertans who have taken care to stop any further spread of COVID-19 lately. Many people are staying home with mild illness and taking precautions to protect their communities even without testing.
Thank you for your continued efforts, safeguarding of others and allowing the PCR testing system to deal with the more critical and at-risk cases.
That said, we are aware that many Albertans are still being asked for a documented positive test result for their employers or sometimes schools.
We know that many Albertans are presenting their rapid test results to physicians so they can obtain a doctor’s note they are being asked for to document their absences.
With the rapid spread of Omicron, it is not feasible for everyone who is sick or who tests positive on a rapid test to call their family doctor.
To make it easier for those who want to document a positive rapid test result, we have worked with primary care colleagues and adapted a printable PDF form similar to what is being used in other jurisdictions. Patients can use this form to enter their name, the time the test was taken, and other useful information that might be needed if they are asked to show a positive result.
I want to emphasize that I urge employers and organizations to NOT require proof of a positive COVID-19 result to support sick leave requests right now. With our test positivity currently at 40%, anyone who has COVID symptoms almost certainly has COVID and should just be staying home.
However, if people want a more formal way to document a positive rapid test result for their own use, after printing the document available on our website, you can fill it out and take a photo of your rapid test result so you can choose to share this with whomever you wish.
The printable form is available on alberta.ca.
Again to be clear, this is an optional tool that patients can use to document their rapid test results for their physicians or others who may be asking for this information.
However, this printable PDF for at-home rapid test results does not replace privately paid rapid tests and cannot be used for the purposes of the Restrictions Exemption Program.
I also want to express my appreciation for primary care colleagues across the province who have been working tirelessly to respond to the Omicron variant. I am deeply grateful to all my colleagues on the front lines in all settings and we will continue to do our best to incorporate their feedback into our response.
One of the most critical parts of our response continues to be immunization. The evidence we’re consistently seeing is that vaccines continue to be the best defense against COVID-19.
Omicron appears to be milder in large part because it’s infecting people who are already protected from severe outcomes through vaccinations.
Booster doses have been shown to strengthen protection against getting infected with Omicron and any severe outcomes from COVID-19.
This third dose is also a critical part of our efforts to prevent our hospitals and ICUs from being overwhelmed with new cases of COVID-19.
The rapidly increasing number of cases could get to a point where more people will be admitted to hospital with COVID in the near future.
Even if only one per cent of cases are in hospital, that’s still a tremendous burden on our health care system.
That kind of surge has the potential to overwhelm our health care facilities, not to mention the health care providers who have been working tirelessly– and non-stop – for nearly two years.
We must take Omicron seriously.
Fortunately, we are seeing a positive uptake on third vaccine doses.
On January 3rd, Alberta surpassed one million booster doses. That’s more than one million people who are committed to helping each other and getting to the other side of this pandemic.
I am encouraged to see so many Albertans doing the right thing. Help us reach another million boosters and help protect yourselves, your families and your communities.
I say again that we must take Omicron seriously. It is not too late to act.
Thank you, and I’m happy to take questions.