EDMONTON -- As the number of COVID-19 cases mounts in both Canada and Alberta, we're getting a clearer picture of how the pandemic is spreading and how the situation here compares to other jurisdictions.

While the daily case count announcements from provincial health authorities are the most eye-catching figures, there's other important numbers beyond newly confirmed cases, including hospitalizations and testing data.

This page will be updated daily as new information on Alberta, Canada and international cases of COVID-19 is made available. 

Starting the week of June 29 and until Nov 8., the province provided daily data updates Monday through Friday and not on weekends and holidays. Daily data updates resumed in early November.

Follow the links below or scroll down to see how the COVID-19 situation is changing in Alberta as the pandemic continues.

HOW IS COVID-19 GROWING IN ALBERTA? 

The province's daily new case count announcement is among the most prominent COVID-19 statistics.

The number of new cases represents the number of patients who are newly infected with the coronavirus. The number of active cases in the province can go up or down depending on the number of new recoveries on a given day. 

In simple terms, a recovery is someone who contracted COVID-19 but didn't die due to the virus. A recovery is not necessarily synonymous with a return to full health as many patients report severe symptoms long after their infections have cleared including "long-haulers" who may deal with multiple syndromes months after diagnosis. 

Alberta Health defines a recovery as follows:

  • A return to health after 14 days of isolation for those with COVID-19 but who experienced only mild symptoms.
  • If hospitalized due to COVID-19, anyone who does not require additional hospitalization or treatment in the 10 days after they left the hospital.
  • If tested, such as a health care worker, two negative tests at least 24 hours apart.

Daily new case counts include both lab-confirmed and probable cases. The number of cases attributed to a given day is regularly revised to more accurately reflect updated data as well as probable cases that were either later confirmed or determined not to be related to COVID-19. 

In late December, Alberta reported its first variant cases of COVID-19

The reproduction value, or R-Value, measures the expected number of cases directly caused by one case. It informs how rapidly the coronavirus is spreading and has been cited by the premier as key metric in determining government policy around restrictions. 

The value can be calculated using one of several different models which estimate a number of past and future factors around the virus and population. The province has provided the statistic on a weekly basis since Dec. 8.

WHERE IS COVID-19 HITTING ALBERTA THE HARDEST?

Since early April, the province has provided a geographic breakdown of cases for its five health zones, community-level subzones and individual cities.

Alberta Health Services divides the province into five health zones: Calgary, Central, Edmonton, North and South.

A map of those zones can be seen here, and it's important to note that the Edmonton and Calgary zones cover areas significantly bigger than the cities they are named after.

Sizable daily jumps in the new number of cases can't necessarily be attributed to the virus growing, as testing volume and reporting time also influence the data.

For more local data, the province's COVID-19 statistics page has an interactive map showing cases by city and community.

WHAT ARE COVID-19 VARIANTS AND HOW ARE THEY GROWING IN ALBERTA? 

Variants occur when a virus develops a set of mutations that change its genetic code enough that it reacts differently than the original strain, but also not enough that it becomes its own virus.

Novel coronavirus variants have been have emerged throughout the pandemic. But, a series of variants that developed in late 2020 drew particular concern due to being more transmissible than the initial strain.

By February, variant cases had appeared in all 10 provinces with modelling data from Ontario suggesting a variant could quickly become the dominant strain of the disease.

There are also questions about the effectiveness of vaccines against variants as well as their potential to reinfect patients who have already had the coronavirus.

In Alberta, identifying a variant case requires a separate screening, meaning individuals are notified twice: once for a positive COVID-19 test, and again if a variant is identified. 

These variants are identified by the location of their discovery or through letters and numbers. In an effort to avoid stigmatizing entire cities and countries where these variants first emerged, an effort has been made to rename them.

In late December, Alberta reported two kinds of variants: the B.1.17 variant first identified in the United Kingdom and the B.1.351 variant first reported in South Africa. Other variants reported in Canada, but not in Alberta, include the P.1 variant first identified in Brazil and the B.1.525 variant orginally found in Nigeria. 

Alberta began reporting the number and type of variant cases in early January on weekdays. By mid-February that reporting was expanded to seven days a week. 

It is important to note that Alberta is screening both current and historical cases, meaning the date a variant case is reported is not necessarily tied to when the infection actually happened.

Cases are reported by total numbers and broken down by health zone, though more details like active cases and recoveries are not yet published. 

Variant cases are a subset of the COVID-19 cases reported daily by the province and are included in daily case counts.

HOW MANY COVID-19 PATIENTS ARE IN HOSPITAL? HOW MANY HAVE DIED?

Tracking hospitalizations is an important indicator of how severely the pandemic is affecting Albertans as well as how the coronavirus is taxing the province's health care system. 

Until November, the number of hospitalizations and ICU admissions had both remained well below maximum capacities. 

The province has said the system's capacity to handle COVID-19 patients can be adjusted, but at the cost of fewer beds and other resources for other patients and procedures.

On Dec. 1, Alberta Health Services said approximately 2,250 acute care beds and 425 ICU beds were being allocated for COVID-19 patients. 

Like all Alberta COVID-19 data, hospitalization figures are often retroactively updated by the province for accuracy as individual hospitals report data at varying times and speeds.

See below to compare hospitalization rates by province.

Deaths are reported daily but a given day's count doesn't necessarily mean all of those deaths happened the day before. 

Instead, deaths are reported by the date they occurred and can be attributed several days prior to being publicly announced.

HOW IS ALBERTA TESTING FOR COVID-19?

Alberta has been among the top provinces in Canada measured by per capita COVID-19 testing volume since the start of the pandemic. 

Test positivity percentage provides insight into what proportion of daily tests are returned with positive results. It can generally be calculated by dividing the number of positive results by number of tests, but Alberta Health cautions that confirmed cases can occasionally appear the reporting system two to three days later. The precise figure takes that delay into account and is provided by the province.

It's also important to distinguish between test volume (the number of tests completed) and the number of people tested as people are often tested more than once. Each person tested is counted only once in the number of people tested statistics.

The province has made 11 notable shifts in policy around who can be tested.

  • March 23: The province announced testing was being focused on at-risk populations and health care workers. At the same time, testing returning travellers was deprioritized to only those showing symptoms. 
  • April 7: Testing is opened to any symptomatic individuals in the Calgary Zone
  • April 13: Testing was expanded to any Albertan with symptoms consistent with the coronavirus. 
  • April 17: The province announced it would start testing all staff and residents of continuing care facilities for COVID-19 regardless of whether or not they show symptoms.​
  • May 4: The testing criteria was expanded again to include anyone exeperiencing headache, muscle or joint aches, fatigue or severe exhaustion, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, unexplained loss of appetite, loss of sense of smell or taste, or pink eye.
  • May 11: The province opened testing to asymptomatic residents of the Calgary Zone who work outside their home.
  • May 29: The province announces all Albertans, including those who are asymptomatic, were eligible to be tested.
  • September 17: Testing prioritized towards at-risk Albertans and those showing symptoms.
  • October 13: the province announced it was moving to an appointment-only testing model.
  • October 20: the province paused testing for asymptomatic individuals with no known exposure to infected persons.
  • February 9: Alberta expanded its rapid testing program to include asymptomatic staff at long-term care and designated support facilities.

HOW HAS COVID-19 AFFECTED DIFFERENT AGE GROUPS?

Since the onset of the pandemic, COVID-19 has affected the elderly more than other age groups as seen by comparably higher death rates.

But, younger age groups are not immune, with cases among Albertans under the age of 40 rising to form a majority of all active cases in the province for much of the summer and continuing into the fall.

HOW DOES COVID-19'S GROWTH IN ALBERTA COMPARE TO ELSEWHERE?

The above interactive graphic shows total and population adjusted numbers for cases, active cases, and deaths across Canada's provinces and territories.​

Conclusions drawn from comparing provinces are somewhat limited by widely differing testing volumes and practices among provinces, but the raw data does allow from some contrast.

Rates adjusted for population provide a snapshot of the COVID-19 situation on any given day, but experts say the growth of the virus, which is unrelated to population size, is also an important indicator of future trends.