An Edmonton doctor said a drop in hospital numbers and lower daily COVID-19 cases are reasons for “cautious optimism” that the fourth wave of the virus has peaked.
A drop in hospital patient numbers, along with consistently lower daily COVID-19 numbers, often marks the beginning of a peak’s crest — a trend Alberta has seen in the first, second and third waves.
The lower hospitalization numbers were recently noted by Dr. Verna Yiu, Alberta Health Services president and CEO. Yiu said for the past six weeks, she has been worrying about an unprecedented level of pressure on Alberta’s health-care system.
On Tuesday, she said she is feeling “a little more optimistic” than she has in quite some time.
“We are seeing the pressure on our hospitals ease ever so slightly,” she said, crediting those who have been vaccinated and following health restrictions.
“It’s a faint silver lining to what has been a very difficult period for our health-care system.”
Yiu said the situation remains extremely serious and emphasized that it’s too early to note a trend.
Dr. Stephanie Smith, an infectious disease expert, said a number of different metrics could point to the peak of the fourth wave.
“The first one is a decline in community numbers. That’s usually the first thing we see going down.
“Two to three weeks later, we see a decline in hospitalizations. That signals to us that we are on the downslope of the fourth wave,” Smith said.
“I do think there is some reason for cautious optimism at this point in time.”
Smith said the best insurance for preventing further waves is widespread vaccination. She noted that the vaccine being approved and available for kids under 12 will be an extremely helpful step in preventing transmission.
“It’s proven quite difficult to predict the future of COVID-19, but if we have more and more people vaccinated, then we may continue to see some transmission in the community, but we are looking that we don’t have these incredible waves of people coming to hospital and being critically ill,” she said.
The infectious disease expert said she and other specialists don’t have a specific number for the necessary vaccine coverage but said it needs to be much higher than Alberta’s current rate of 76.2 per cent of eligible people who are fully vaccinated.
“The hope is with decreased transmission and increased vaccination, we won’t see the emergence of other variants,” Smith said.
“My hope is we get to a point without significant transmission. Somewhere around 85 or 90 per cent.”
Global News asked Alberta Health if there is a new vaccine coverage target the province is aiming for when it comes to the easing of public health measures.
In a statement, a spokesperson said: “We have not defined specific thresholds for easing public health measures or eliminating the restrictions exemption program. The REP is expected to remain in place through at least the first quarter of 2022.”
“We will continue to monitor the situation in Alberta closely,” Alberta Health said.
“Any future move to ease public health measures will consider many factors, including the spread of COVID-19, pressure on the health system, vaccination rates, the need to balance restrictions with their impacts on overall health, global evidence and the advice of experts like Dr. Deena Hinshaw.”
Smith said she would continue to recommend other layers of protection until we are in a more endemic stage of COVID-19, including mask-wearing and physical distancing.