“To ease the strain caused by increased demand for COVID-19 and influenza testing, I urge every eligible Albertan to get the COVID-19 and influenza vaccines as soon as you are able to,” she said Thursday.
“This will greatly reduce the number of people who get infected and the number of symptomatic people who need to be tested.”
The province has already confirmed three cases of the flu in Alberta this year. Last year, despite conducting about two and a half times the number of flu tests conducted the year before, Alberta had no lab-confirmed cases of influenza or deaths from to the virus.
The province’s chief medical officer of health also reminded Albertans that preventative measures for COVID-19 and influenza are the same: washing your hands, physical distancing, staying home when sick and wearing masks all proved effective in reducing the number of lab-confirmed flu cases last year.
The province’s influenza campaign starts on Monday and more information on how to book appointments will be available on Friday.
A record-breaking more than 1.65 million doses of flu vaccine were administered in Alberta last year, Hinshaw said.
“That was the highest uptake we’ve seen in over 10 years, but let’s push for even better this year.”
Any Albertan over the age of six months can receive a flu vaccine for free and public health clinics will offer the vaccine for kids aged five and under and their families. Many community pharmacies and doctor’s offices will also be offering the vaccine.
For those who are set to receive another, or their first, dose of COVID-19 vaccine, Hinshaw said it is safe to also get the flu vaccine.
“Scientific and medical reviews have determined it is safe to get both vaccines at the same time,” she said.
Thursday COVID-19 numbers
Hinshaw started her news conference on Thursday by apologizing to the family of the 14-year-old whose death was included in the province’s COVID-19 data on Tuesday.
At the time, Hinshaw pointed out the teenage boy suffered from several “complex” health complications, leading to a debate online about whether Hinshaw, and by extension the government, was making light of the fact a teenager seemingly died of the virus.
“The pain of losing a child is terrible enough, without having that loss compounded by a public debate around the circumstances,” Hinshaw said. “I am sorry if the way that I spoke about that death made your grief worse.”
On Thursday, Hinshaw said further review showed the boy’s death was not related to COVID-19 and had been removed from the province’s death toll.
Whenever a person dies and had COVID-19 listed as the primary or secondary cause of death, the province rules it a COVID death, but conducts a review to be sure. There have been other instances during the pandemic where a previously ruled COVID death was determined to be unrelated after the review.
Going forward, a suspected COVID-19 death in an Albertan under the age of 18 will not be publicly reported until after the review is done.
“We will prioritize accuracy over timeliness in these cases,” Hinshaw said.
“This incident has caused suffering for many and, again, I apologize for this.”
An additional 30 deaths have been reported to Alberta Health over the past 24 hours.
“As we have seen before, most of these deaths involve those who are not fully vaccinated,” Hinshaw said.
All but one death included pre-existing conditions.
Eleven deaths occurred in the Central zone: a man in his 60s, three men in their 70s, two women in their 70s, three men in their 80s, a woman in her 90s and a man in his 90s.
Six deaths occurred in the North zone: two women in their 70s, two men in their 70s and two men in their 90s.
Six deaths occurred in the Edmonton zone: a man in his 70s, a woman in her 70s, two men in their 80s, a man in his 90s and a woman in her 90s.
Three deaths occurred in the South zone: a man in his 60s, a woman in her 90s and a man in his 90s.
Four deaths occurred in the Calgary zone: a man in his 70s, a man in his 80s and a woman in her 80s. In addition, a woman in her 50s with no known pre-existing conditions died in the Calgary zone.
Since the boy’s death is no longer considered a COVID-19 death, the province’s death toll has climbed by 29 to 2,930.
An additional 916 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Thursday, bringing the province’s active case total to 13,423. That’s down from 14,218 on Wednesday.
There were 1,016 people receiving care for COVID-19 in the hospital, with 231 of them being treated in the ICU.
That’s also down from 1,027 people in hospital with COVID-19 and 236 in the ICU on Wednesday.
Alberta conducted 12,733 COVID-19 tests over the past 24 hours and the positivity rate was about 7.5 per cent.
There were active alerts or outbreaks in 342 schools, with eight of those schools on outbreak.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 313,201 Albertans have contracted COVID-19, while 296,848 have recovered.
ICU situation improving, but precarious
ICU admissions were down on Thursday, but the province was still sitting at 163 per cent occupancy without surge beds, Alberta Health Services president and CEO Verna Yiu said.
With that surge space, Alberta’s ICUs are sitting at 76 per cent capacity and there are 97 available ICU spaces across the province.
“This is better than the 172 per cent I announced on Tuesday, and 184 per cent back on Sept. 28,” Yiu said.
“After experiencing perhaps the most difficult period in our health-care system, we welcome good news.”
While the numbers appear better, the pressure on hospitals remains high. Yiu warned the trend can be reversed quickly if people become complacent and pointed out the province doesn’t yet know the effect, if any, the Thanksgiving weekend will have on the situation.
Yiu asked Albertans to stay the course and continue following all public heath guidelines, as well as to get vaccinated if they haven’t yet been, saying the pressure on hospitals and health workers remains high.
“Improving numbers does not mean that the workload suddenly returns to normal. Their days continue to be extraordinary and their efforts remain above and beyond what is usually expected of them.”
Hinshaw was asked whether the ICU numbers are improving because people are improving or because they are dying. The number of deaths being reported to Alberta Health has been in the double digits for some time now and on Wednesday, the province tied the highest number of deaths reported in one day since the pandemic began, with 38.
Hinshaw said both the number of people who improve and who die are a factor in how things change every day.
“We monitor that over time,” she said. “Part of the predictions that are made in terms of the near-term pressures we anticipate on acute care are based on what we have seen over the past several months and if that played out in a similar way, what we would expect to happen over the coming weeks.”
Alberta has a baseline of 173 ICU beds.