As Alberta added an additional 323 cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced the province will no longer offer any asymptomatic testing, including at pharmacies.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said that the decision to stop asymptomatic tests was made due to low positive results being found in that population. Hinshaw said the province has completed 659,000 tests on asymptomatic people with no known exposure, and only 0.11 per cent have come back positive.
“Only about one in 1,000 people — with no symptoms and no exposure — has tested positive on average over the past seven months,” Hinshaw said.
“Asymptomatic individuals without known exposures are not driving the spread in Alberta.”
All the pharmacy tests that have been booked already will continue until Nov. 4, but there will be no new bookings after that point.
Alberta Health will continue to test asymptomatic people if they are close contacts of those who test positive. The province had announced in September that it would no longer be offering asymptomatic tests, but pharmacies had continued offering the service until now.
Hinshaw added the decision was made to free up lab space for those with actual symptoms. She said in last week, 30 per cent of the tests done in Alberta were asymptomatic ones.
“We must be nimble, and keep adapting our approach based on what the evidence shows us,” she said. “We have clear evidence that shows where testing is most effective, and a lab system with significant capacity to identify cases and protect Albertans.”
Tuesday’s update shows there are now 3,203 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, and another person died from the disease.
That brings the total deaths in the province to 293.
“It is important to remember that we have lost many Albertans to many different causes since this pandemic began,” Hinshaw said. “Every one of these was a person, not a number.”
The person who died was a man in his 70s in Edmonton zone, linked to the outbreak at Terra Losa Lifestyle Options continuing care centre.
The majority of cases continue to be in the Edmonton and Calgary zones. In Edmonton zone, there are now 1,607 active cases, while Calgary zone has 1,043 active cases. North zone has 198 active cases, while South zone has 199. There are 145 active cases in the Central zone, and 11 in an unknown zone.
Hinshaw said that health officials are “concerned by the rise” of hospitalizations and cases in the province.
“I am concerned by the rise, which appears to be driven by a number of factors, mainly the increase in community case counts, and several hospital outbreaks,” she said.
As of Tuesday, there were 116 Albertans in hospital, 16 of whom are in intensive care units. Hinshaw said that the compounded daily hospitalization rates are starting to inch closer to the threshold for more restrictions.
“We are currently at a compounded daily COVID-19 hospitalization rise of 3.1 per cent across the province in the last two weeks, which is getting closer to the five per cent trigger threshold,” she said.
She added the province is in a “danger zone” and that all Albertans should follow health guidelines carefully.
“We are not yet at that point where our system is not able to cope, but we are getting closer,” she said.
Hinshaw added that there have been 850 new recoveries recorded since the last time she gave a live update, on Friday. There have been 19,500 recoveries in total from COVID-19 in Alberta through the pandemic.
‘Keep your gatherings small’
She also stressed Albertans should avoid large gatherings, as there have been a number of outbreaks related to get-togethers in the province.
“I want to remind anyone planning any kind of social gathering, that it is critical to keep your gatherings small,” Hinshaw said. “To ensure that anyone with symptoms does not attend, to make sure that all those attending are keeping distance from each other.”
Hinshaw also suggested that masks be worn in all social gatherings “as a precaution” as it is generally difficult to keep distanced at all times.
She gave several examples of social gatherings that have led to outbreaks, including a wedding in Calgary that led to 49 COVID-19 cases, a social party where eight of 24 attendees were infected, and an after-work gathering where nine of 29 people there later tested positive.
“COVID-19 really does love parties,” Hinshaw said. “This happens even when people are doing their best to try to follow public health guidance.
“That common element does seem to be that people were indoors, together in a social context, and unfortunately enough of those layers slipped enough that widespread transmission happened.”
Hinshaw also reiterated that Albertans should prioritize getting their flu shots this year.
“By reducing your likelihood of influenza you are reducing your likelihood of staying home and going for COVID-19 testing,” she said. “I strongly encourage everyone else to make an appointment today.”
Alberta Health Services will offer the vaccine through pre-booked appointments to children under five and their family and household members. There will be no drop-in immunizations at AHS clinics for the flu vaccine to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Those over the age of five can get their flu vaccine at their local pharmacy. Physicians will also offer the vaccine to Albertans nine and older. Some doctors may offer vaccines to children six months and older, but people are asked to check with their physician’s office.