The province confirmed its first case of the B.1.617 COVID-19 variant Thursday, the variant behind the rapid rise of cases happening in India.
It comes as overall cases continue to surge in the province.
Though Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday it was first identified in Denmark, Alberta Health clarified it was first identified in India.
Hinshaw said the province is treating this as a “variant of interest” at this time. The province’s chief medical officer of health said it was confirmed after an Albertan returned from interprovincial travel. No additional cases of this variant have been detected to date in Alberta.
Hinshaw said it was unclear whether this variant of interest is as infectious as other variants at this time, but she said the best way to stop spread of any strain of COVID-19 is to follow the public health regulations currently in place.
The news comes as the province confirmed an additional 1,857 new cases of COVID-19 had been reported over the past 24 hours.
During the same time period, the province identified 1,326 additional cases of variants.
As of Thursday, variants made up 60 per cent of active cases in Alberta.
The province completed about 17,500 tests over the last 24 hours and the positivity rate sat at about 10.7 per cent.
“These are concerning numbers that underline the fact that we have work to do together,” Hinshaw said.
There were 518 people in hospital as of Thursday afternoon, with 116 of those people receiving treatment in the ICU.
Hinshaw said it is crucial for Albertans to do everything they can to bend the curve back down to protect the health-care system.
“It’s important to remember that hospitalizations are a lagging indicator and these individuals in hospital were likely first infected around two to three weeks ago,” she said.
“Given how high our leading indicators – growth rate, new cases and positivity rate have been – we can expect to see this number grow in coming days.”
Six deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 48 hours, all of which included comorbidities.
Two deaths occurred in the Edmonton zone: a woman in her 60s linked to the outbreak at Rehoboth Christian Ministries and a man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at Capital Care Grandview.
Two deaths occurred in the Calgary zone: a man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at United Active Living at Fish Creek and a woman in her 90s linked to the outbreak at Arbour Lake Retirement Residence.
Two deaths occurred in the South zone: a woman in her 90s linked to the outbreak at Martha’s House and a man in his 70s.
Over the previous 24 hours, Alberta administered more than 42,300 doses of vaccine.
As of Thursday’s update, there were outbreaks or alerts in 612 schools, or 25 per cent of Alberta schools. Since Jan. 11, there have been 3,052 cases linked to these outbreaks.
Changes to second-dose timeline for some Albertans
Hinshaw also announced Thursday the province is changing the timeline for some Albertans to receive their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Effective Friday, anyone receiving cancer treatments or are on other kinds of medication that result in a “profound level of immune compromise” will be eligible to book their second dose 21 to 28 days after the first.
“This aligns with Ontario’s approach and is specifically limited to Albertans who have received solid organ or stem cell transplants, or who are currently undergoing specific immune-compromising treatments, such as chemotherapy,” Hinshaw said Thursday afternoon.
Anyone receiving solely hormonal therapy, radiation therapy or surgical intervention for cancer or other therapies that are not as
profoundly immune compromising will receive their second dose at an extended interval no later than four months after the first.
Second-dose appointments for those who qualify under these new guidelines can only be made by calling 811.
Text messages from AHS
Hinshaw said Alberta’s contact tracers are running into an issue where people aren’t consenting to receive information about being a close contact via text message.
Contact tracers send a text message to people asking if they consent to receive important information about COVID-19. Once the person says yes, they receive confirmation about being a close contact and what next steps need to be taken.
“If you receive this message, it is not a scam; it is a legitimate communication and will allow our hard-working contact tracers to notifying the next person in line in the most efficient way possible,” Hinshaw said.
If people don’t consent to receive the next text message, contact tracers then have to call that person, which takes longer.
“With cases rising, we can all help make our contact-trace system as effective as possible by enabling this efficient means of communication,” Hinshaw said.