Alberta doctors and health experts worry about Omicron-fuelled 5th wave
As wastewater analysis indicates Alberta is entering the start of an Omicron wave, experts want the province to release modelling and plans to ensure the health care system can deal with staffing pressures.
Casey Hubert, Campus Alberta Innovates Program chair in geomicrobiology, said wastewater testing confirms the province is entering the fifth wave of the pandemic in several municipalities, including Edmonton, Calgary, Fort Saskatchewan, Drumheller, and Lethbridge.
"In some communities, we are seeing levels of COVID-19 in the wastewater that are twice as high as anything we've seen in the past," Hubert added. "The trend is going up and up and up."
Alberta's next full data update is scheduled for Jan. 4. The last data update, given on Dec. 30, set a new reported case record of 4,000 infections.
Case counts provided by the province can no longer be relied upon to present an accurate picture of COVID infections as only select groups are eligible for PCR testing, and most Albertans are being asked to self-test at home, with no structure for reporting those results.
At that time, there were 371 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 48 patients in intensive care units.
Hubert, the co-lead for Alberta's COVID-19 wastewater monitoring project, explained that data gleaned from wastewater analysis has proven to match up with COVID-19 case counts announced by the province with a one-week delay.
"What's really important now with less testing available is that the wastewater still gives us a city-wide signal," Hubert said. "There might be fewer people getting PCR tests, but what we do is a PCR test for the entire community."
TIME FOR MODELLING AND A PLAN
The Opposition is calling for the province to release modelling and projections so Albertans can see the potential impact of an Omicron wave.
"This threat is not speculation," said Rachel Notley, adding that public health officials in Ontario released stark modelling showing projected patient counts in two weeks that could overwhelm hospitals.
"Our hospital system (in Alberta) is already in an extremely vulnerable state," the opposition leader said.
"We are starting the Omicron wave at a much higher level of COVID hospitalization than most other provinces," she added.
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"So the prospect of yet another wave crashing into our health care system is extremely worrying. Not only for the Albertans who may be infected with the virus but also for every single Albertan who is waiting for surgery to address an injury or serious illness."
On Monday, Ontario also announced sweeping new restrictions, including closing schools to in-person learning, banning indoor dining, shuttering gyms, and capacity limits. Most public health measures come into effect on Jan. 5 to be in place for 21 days thereafter.
Notley said the province needs to communicate to Albertans the plan to ensure staffing pressures do not impact the health care system workforce so that hospitals remain open.
"We've seen soaring numbers of COVID-19 cases. These numbers are the highest by far of any point in this pandemic," Notley said.
"Even if a much smaller fraction of these cases produce severe illness compared to previous variants, the sheer volume of Omicron cases may overwhelm Alberta's health care system," she added.
Dr. Darren Markland, ICU physician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, told CTV News he is worried about the pressure Omicron cases will create on the health system.
"I am not optimistic about what is going to happen," Markland said.
"We're going to see a lot of people infected and see a huge number of people coming into our hospitals," he added. "The problem is, it's going to be happening all at one time.
"Before, we saw a slower wave. We saw numbers, but it was drawn out, and we could prepare. It's going to hit us like a tsunami."
READY FOR ACTION, IF NECESSARY
In a statement to CTV News, the premier's office said it is in constant contact with public health officials and is ready to "further steps if and when they are necessary."
The COVID-19 cabinet committee is scheduled to meet again on Wednesday.
Christa Jubinville, a spokesperson for Alberta Health, said it is too early to know the full impact of Omicron. Still, the province is watching other jurisdictions like Ontario and proceeding with "caution," Jubinville said.
"No model can exactly predict a given epidemic curve, especially when so many factors are changing," Jubinville added. "We continue to monitor the situation closely and consider further actions if and as needed to protect Albertans and maintain capacity in our health system."
With files from CTV News Calgary's Tyson Fedor
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