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COVID-19 fifth wave peak likely reached in Alberta, shift to endemic still too early: Hinshaw


Alberta's top doctor said the province has likely reached the peak of cases from the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but until hospitalizations significantly decline, a shift to an endemic response is still too early.

In an update on Thursday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported 2,370 new confirmed infections of COVID-19 after the province completed more than 7,300 tests. The province's positivity rate is approximately 34 per cent for lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

There are now 33,879 known active cases in Alberta. However, testing capacity and eligibility limits mean the actual number of new and active COVID-19 infections is much higher.

The number of patients in Alberta hospitals with COVID-19 has reached another new record high. Wednesday's patient count of 1,598 was revised on Thursday to a pandemic high of 1,648.

The latest hospitalization patient count has 1,584 COVID-19 patients in hospital, the third-highest count to date and likely to rise in the coming days pending more revisions.

Hospitalization data is regularly revised to account for accuracy and reporting delays.

The 1,584 includes 112 patients in intensive care units. That's an increase of two from this time a week ago, but the ICU count has held steady between 104 and 114 patients since Jan. 17.

Fifteen more deaths from the disease were reported Thursday, raising the pandemic total to 3,608. The deaths are spread across several days and were in individuals ranging in age from in their 40s to more than 80 years old. 


The chief medical officer of health noted that Alberta Health's data indicated that the province has likely passed the peak of COVID-19 cases from the fifth wave.

"Our data is indicating that we are likely beginning to turn a corner with this fifth wave," Hinshaw said.

"While this is encouraging news, there are steps we need to continue to take to protect ourselves and each other," she said, adding that vaccination remains the best defence against the coronavirus, including receiving a third booster dose.

Hinshaw said that while other chief medical officers of health in Canada have been talking about shifts to an endemic approach, it is still too early for Alberta as the health-care system remains stressed.

"I agree with my colleagues that this is the direction that we need to move when we see similar trends in our acute care system in Alberta," Hinshaw said.

"COVID will not go away," she added. "There will continue to be impacts on our acute care systems that will rise and fall with seasonality and new variants that may emerge."

After hospital pressure from the Omicron-fueled fifth wave subsides, Hinshaw said Alberta could pivot its response and ease restrictions.

"We cannot continue to use restrictions in the long-term once the risk of system overwhelm has passed.

"This change will take time," she said. "Our acute care system is still under strain today. We need to continue to protect it."

Alberta has now administered more than eight million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, with 80.5 per cent of the population having had at least one dose and 74.6 per cent having had two shots.

A third of Albertans, 33.3 per cent, have now also received a third dose.


Hinshaw announced that the quarantine recommendations for unvaccinated close contacts who are not showing COVID-19 symptoms are changing.

Previously, the province recommended quarantining for 14 days. Now, asymptomatic close contacts only need to quarantine for 10 days.

"Reducing the length of time recommended for unvaccinated asymptomatic household contacts of confirmed cases," Hinshaw said, "aligns with data showing the incubation period for Omicron is shorter than previous variants.

"As new evidence emerges, we will continue to review the appropriateness of the duration of the recommended quarantine period."


Premier Jason Kenney COVID-19 says health restrictions could be lifted this month, even earlier than he promised before. 

Edmonton Public Schools is asking the provincial government for permission to spend $6 million on HEPA filters to slow the spread of COVID-19 in classrooms. 

Most patients seeking care at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre are being diverted to Edmonton and Calgary this week, as the facility struggles with high patient volumes and staff shortages, according to Alberta Health Services. 

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