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Alberta COVID-19 active cases and hospitalizations trending down, announce changes to rapid test program

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Alberta's health minister said the province is seeing the number of active cases and the number of people being admitted to hospital for COVID-19 treatment decrease.

On Thursday, the province reported 1,363 new confirmed infections of the disease after completing just under 5,000 tests. There are now 25,339 confirmed active cases, representing a decline by almost two-thirds from January's peak of 71,600 cases.

That gives Alberta a positivity rate of about 29.3 per cent, based only on PCR confirmed tests. Limits to testing capacity and eligibility mean the actual number of cases is likely many times higher.

Twenty-two more deaths from COVID-19 were reported on Thursday, raising the pandemic total to 3,718.

There are 1,586 people with COVID-19 in hospital, including 126 in intensive care units.

The province says only four out of 2,500 schools have temporarily shifted to online learning due to staffing pressures.

'PAST THE PEAK'

According to Health Minister Jason Copping, those numbers are an encouraging sign that the Omicron wave has peaked in Alberta.

"Because, and we can finally say this, we are past the peak of the Omicron wave, and we are transitioning to life on the other side of it," Copping said.

"That doesn't mean that the pandemic is over or that we are still not at risk of substantial strain on our health-care system," he said, adding that restrictions may need to be reintroduced should hospitalizations increase.

Copping said that Alberta Health Services no longer needs pandemic overflow units as new hospital admissions for patients with COVID-19 peaked more than two weeks ago, and have dropped every day since.

According to the health minister, the provincial rate of hospitalization has decreased by a quarter since its peak, despite Thursday's number of people in hospital representing the pandemic's ninth-highest total. In Edmonton, where hospitalizations for COVID-19 were the highest, the number has declined by one-third.

Surgeries in Alberta are returning to normal volumes, Copping added. The wait list for medical procedures is starting to trend "slightly" downwards compared to previous weeks, Copping said.

"That demand will come back once as we get the system back to working normally," he said.

"COVID is not a light switch that we can turn on or off. But it's important to recognize that the system is there for you."

Health critic David Shepherd said that the update on Thursday was proof that the decision to accelerate Alberta's removal of public health measures "was not based on advice from health officials."

"It's clear the UCP are trying to paint a much rosier picture of Omicron's impacts on our healthcare system than the reality," Shepherd said in a statement.

RAPID TEST CHANGES

Copping said that as the province learns to live with COVID-19, free rapid tests available through the provincial program will only be available at participating pharmacies.

Previously, tests could also be picked up at select AHS sites. Now, tests will only be available at one of the more than 1,500 pharmacies.

Albertans are eligible for a test kit every 14 days, as supply allows, if they present their health-care card or a photo of it. Additional tests can be received if the health-care cards of people living in the same household are shown.

The health minister said more than 2.5 million tests were delivered last week and that another two million tests are expected to be in stock by Monday.

To see a list of pharmacies and if they have tests available, visit the Alberta Blue Cross website.

OTHER COVID-19 RELATED NEWS 

At midnight on Wednesday, Alberta's Restrictions Exemption Program expired, marking the start of the province's plan to reopen. Here's what you need to know about it. 

The plan has been highly criticized by school boards and the teachers' union, which say the removal of mask mandates from schools comes too soon, the Official Opposition NDP, which says the United Conservative government is pandering to extremist views, and some businesses which fear the removal of restrictions will hurt consumer confidence. Other businesses, however, are confident they can operate safely with the precautions they've put in place, and welcome back more business. And, Edmonton city council is exploring its options to implement a citywide proof-of-vaccination system in the absence of a provincial program.

A 10-day trial in which three churches will try to have Alberta's public health orders found unlawful begins Thursday morning in southern Alberta. 

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