Alberta is potentially facing an unprecedented wave of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, according to top officials.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw issued a stark warning Thursday as the province reported 6,010 new cases of the virus based on about 14,000 tests for a 40.9 test positivity rate, as well as 786 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 79 in the ICU.
“Omicron is so transmissible that the number of cases could get to a point where more people than any previous wave would need to be admitted for care in hospital,” Hinshaw said.
“Even if a small number of cases are in hospital, that can still result in a high number of hospital admissions, when tens of thousands of active cases are in the province.
“This kind of surge could put extreme pressure on the health care providers who have been working vigilantly and diligently for almost two years. Our actions today can be a part of preventing that.”
Premier Jason Kenney also said hospitals in the province could be facing further strain if COVID-19 cases keep rising. According to Alberta Health Services, provincially, ICU capacity (including additional surge beds) is currently at 80 per cent. Without the additional surge spaces, provincial ICU capacity would be at 112 per cent.
“Given the sheer number of cases in the province, we know we will continue to see hospitalizations grow in the coming weeks, particularly for non-ICU beds,” Kenney said.
“We are now four weeks into the Omicron wave in Alberta, it started about Dec. 16… what we can see in the data here tracks many other jurisdictions. At least so far, a modest impact on intensive care… but a much more significant impact on our non-ICU acute care beds. The good news is people have a shorter stay, generally with less severe symptoms.
Still, the sheer number of those cases, with many hospital workers having to self-isolate, is going to pose very significant pressure on our hospital system.”
The province reported eight new deaths due to the implications of COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 3,375 since the start of the pandemic.
Alberta also has 62,733 active cases of the virus, a new record in the province.
‘This is the highest number of active cases that we have identified in Alberta at any time during COVID and we know that these numbers only represent a fraction of the actual spread that’s been happening in the province,” Kenney said.
Due to the rising number of daily COVID-19 cases, the province is also changing the way it reports COVID-19 outbreaks. Case investigators are only focusing on high-risk settings like hospitals and continuing care facilities as well as shelters and correctional facilities.
Starting Friday, the province will no longer report on outbreaks outside acute and continuing care facilities.
“This approach is in line with what other provinces are doing given the dramatic rise in cases due to Omicron,” Hinshaw said.
As daily case numbers continue to rise, Kenney said that 1.2 million third doses have been administered in the province and more than 35 per cent of people over 18 have received the COVID-19 booster shots.
“The data is telling us that these booster shots are very powerful addition protection against Omicron,” Kenney said.
He also noted that close 70 per cent of the 79 patients in the ICU are unvaccinated.
“That is powerful proof of the protective effect of these vaccines,” Kenney said.
In the press conference last week, the premier said 3.7 million COVID-19 rapid tests will arrive in the province this week, with 1 million arriving Wednesday night. The province has purchased 10 million additional rapid tests, on top of the 16.5 million they will get from the federal government. No exact date for the delivery has been provided.
Kenney also explained schools have received about 58 per cent of the initial supply of promised COVID-19 rapid tests.