Alberta’s chief medical officer of health announced Thursday that 191 more COVID-19 cases involving “variants of concern” have been identified and that such cases now make up for 21 per cent of all the province’s active coronavirus cases.
“The importance of variant cases becoming that dominant strain is the impact that has on growth… and on hospitalizations,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said at a news conference in Edmonton.
Many researchers say the variants of concern appear to spread more easily than the current dominant strain, and perhaps lead to severe outcomes more often.
“It can spread very quickly,” Hinshaw said of the variants, citing examples of how other jurisdictions have fared.
Hinshaw pleaded with Albertans to use their “collective determination to protect our communities by following the measures that are in place right now.”
“The future is really up to us,” she said. “(It) depends on the behaviours and the actions we all take every day.”
When pressed for where her team is seeing the most spread of the novel coronavirus as of late — and which activities are at play — Hinshaw said it’s clear that households are the most prevalent location where COVID-19 is spreading. She reminded people that just because someone in their household is symptomatic, it does not mean following precautions are futile in terms of containing the coronavirus’ spread.
“(Spread is) not inevitable,” she said. “If someone in the house feels symptomatic, there are things we can do.”
She said if that occurs, the symptomatic person should stay away from others in the household as much as possible and get tested for the coronavirus. She also noted that people can take steps to quarantine themselves within a household or make arrangements to do so outside of a household.
Hinshaw said the other significant factor driving spread has been people not following public health guidelines, or becoming lackadaisical about doing so.
“I know that we are all so tired of this pandemic,” she said. “Our actions have a real-life impact on people we care about as well as people we may never meet.
“We can’t give up now… we are too close to getting through this.
“Spring is here and I ask that all of us use that fact for encouragement — to hang on for just a few months longer.”
Hinshaw did not mention any further tightening of pandemic-related restrictions or changes to how schools operate. She said while COVID-19 transmission in schools generally seems to mirror the rate of transmission in the community, she does not believe there is currently a need to move students back to online learning given how important in-person learning is.
“(It is) not something that at this point in time we would be requiring,” Hinshaw said.
Hinshaw was asked whether students should be moved to virtual learning for one week after spring break before returning to in-person classes.
She said that the situation now is different from Christmas break, when students were required to do one week of virtual learning after the holidays.
Hinshaw said cases were at their peak — just shy of 2,000 — in November and December and that case numbers, while concerning, are not at the same level now.
“We are seeing lower case numbers, lower hospitalizations than we saw at Christmas,” she said. “Second of all, we’re not seeing the same significant school impact that we had just before the Christmas break with respect to the total number of students, teachers who we had out on quarantine or isolation.”
Hinshaw urged Albertans to stay within the province and not gather with people from outside their households during spring break.
She also noted that while the growing number of COVID-19 cases involving variants is a concern, the case numbers and hospitalization numbers are not currently near the same “extreme” level as they were in late 2020.
Hinshaw added that while she understands there is COVID-19 fatigue and that there have been some “high-profile examples” of people and organizations breaking the rules, for the most part, Albertans have been adhering to the public health guidelines quite dutifully.
“All of us are tired of COVID-19,” she said. “(The) reality is that COVID-19 is with us, it’s growing and the only way to bring those numbers down is to have more of us following those public health restrictions.”
Hinshaw thanked those in the province who have been tasked with enforcing public health rules for “serving their communities faithfully for over a year.”
“They’re doing that to protect you, to protect those around you,” she said. “(They’re) doing it for their communities’ benefit and they need to be treated with respect.”
Latest COVID-19 numbers in Alberta
In all, Alberta recorded 764 new cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, Hinshaw said on Thursday. Those positive cases emerged after about 14,000 tests were completed in the same time frame.
Hinshaw said Alberta’s positivity rate currently sits at about 5.4 per cent.
Alberta Health announced that the province has identified three more COVID-19 deaths on Thursday: a man in his 60s in the North zone, a woman in her 60s in the Edmonton zone and a woman in her 70s who was linked to a COVID-19 outbreak at Grandview Village in the South zone. Both the cases involving the women included comorbidities while Alberta Health said it is not yet clear if the man’s death included comorbidities.
“My condolences go to the loved of these individuals and anyone who is mourning a death right now,” Hinshaw said.
“Each of these numbers is a person. These are people who have died.”
As of Thursday afternoon, Hinshaw said 294 people in Alberta were in hospital with COVID-19 while 55 people were in intensive care units.
Alberta’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccines continues and Hinshaw said as of Thursday, about 532,000 doses of vaccine had been administered in the province.
–With files from Global News’ Julia Wong