Alberta adds 50 new variant cases in four days as COVID-19 positivity rate ticks up
EDMONTON -- Spread of the COVID-19 B.1.1.7 variant continued in Alberta over the Family Day long weekend, with the province confirming 50 new cases.
The additions, which bring the province’s total to 221, accumulated over a four-day period beginning Friday at an average of 12 new variant cases per day.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, who announced the new cases during her Tuesday afternoon briefing, said she was concerned about the growing number of variant cases not linked to travel and instead identified through community spread.
“We haven’t been able to finish the investigations for those cases identified over the weekend. For the (previously identified cases), it’s about half and half,” said Dr. Hinshaw.
She said many of the new cases were discovered through “robust contract tracing” because they were close contacts of already identified cases.
“We are actively monitoring the emerging research on these variants and looking to see if any of our current guidelines or approaches need to change.”
Seven of the variant cases in Alberta are of the strain first identified in South Africa and the remaining 214 are the so-called U.K. variant.
The 50 new variant cases identified breakdown as follows: 15 on Friday, 18 on Saturday, 10 on Sunday, and seven on Monday.
According to Health Canada, variants seem to make COVID-19 more infectious, allowing it to spread more rapidly, and may affect the severity of the disease.
Asked whether any of the variant cases have resulted in severe outcomes, such as hospitalizations, Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said: “We are not providing a specific breakdown for variant cases at the time,” adding there have been no variant-related deaths to date.
POSITIVITY RATE RISING
Alberta's chief medical officer of health also expressed concern about the province’s positivity rate, which hit five per cent Tuesday for the first time in more than two weeks (Jan. 30, 5.4 per cent).
Dr. Hinshaw said it was “too soon” to say whether the recent easing of public health restrictions on Feb. 8 were having any effect on the positivity rate increase, adding cases rates are highest outside Edmonton and Calgary.
On Tuesday, Alberta reported 263 new cases of COVID-19 (including variants) identified on roughly 5,200 tests.
Total active cases (4,993) of COVID-19 dropped below 5,000 for the first time since Oct. 28.
There are 365 Albertans in hospital, including 56 in ICU, which is nine more people hospitalized than reported Monday (356), but two fewer in ICU (58).
Nine additional deaths related to COVID-19 were reported, bringing the provincial total to 1,791. According to Alberta Health, all nine included comorbidities.
MORE HEALTH-CARE WORKERS TO BE IMMUNIZED, STILL NO DETAILS ON VACCINE PRIORITIZATION
Details on Alberta’s vaccine prioritization list will be released "within the coming weeks", according to Dr. Hinshaw.
So far, the province has not said exactly who will be included in Phase 2 of its distribution plan, scheduled to begin in April.
'I want to emphasize again that choices around the sequencing of vaccines is not about the value that people bring to their work to the society. What it is is about preventing deaths," she said.
Alberta is still currently in Phase 1A and on Tuesday the province announced upwards of 9,000 more Alberta health-care workers will agaion be in line for their first COVID-19 vaccine dose.
A government news release said vaccine doses are “starting to trickle in," meaning AHS is going to be contacting workers soon to rebook vaccine appointments that were previously cancelled due to the shortage.
As of Tuesday, more than 54,000 Albertans had been fully immunized with two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Alberta Health.