Editor’s note: This story has been updated from its original version to say the Omicron variant of concern has been identified in at least four provinces, not three. Global News regrets the error.
On Monday morning, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw tweeted eight new cases have been found — all from returning travellers. (See the weekend’s full COVID-19 data below).
She added the variant may have been exposed in an elementary school and high school in the North zone.
“Some household members of these cases have tested positive for COVID but have not yet been confirmed as Omicron,” Hinshaw wrote. “Out of an abundance of caution, we have notified the schools.
“The schools will notify any potentially exposed groups and additional testing is being recommended,” the chief medical officer said, noting anyone with COVID-19 symptoms must isolate and be tested through Alberta Health Services.
She also said those schools will be receiving rapid tests to distribute to the student body.
All of the new cases are isolating and “appropriate public health follow-up is underway,” according to Hinshaw.
“Finding additional cases is not unexpected, and identifying these cases early is a testament to the work of our public health lab and front-line public health teams. We will continue to monitor the situation carefully and keep Albertans updated.”
The province originally said Monday that the total number of cases of the Omicron variant had reached 12, but later learned that one case has been determined to be in an out-of-province resident. This means there have been 11 cases of the Omicron variant identified in Alberta.
Earlier Monday, Health Minister Jason Copping said they are keeping an eye on the variant’s spread.
“We’ve seen some spread but it’s all international travellers that have arrived back in Alberta with the exception of one,” Copping said at an unrelated news conference Monday morning.
“By way of background, we still don’t know — one of the reasons why we put in new measures is because we are being cautious — we don’t know what the impact of this new variant will be. Again, it appears to be more transmissible, perhaps it is less severe. We don’t know yet… how effective the vaccines will work, but that research is being done.”
As of Friday, four provinces had reported detection of the Omicron variant: British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
On Sunday, U.S. health officials said at least 16 states had detected dozens of cases of the new variant that is suspected to be more transmissible than Delta.
Airport testing ramping up
On Monday, the Calgary International Airport was still ramping up testing capacity for random testing of incoming international travellers.
“That ratio of testing is now going up, obviously, with the presence of Omicron being found,” said Christopher Miles, the airport’s vice-president of operations and infrastructure.
“We are up to 85 per cent of our international travellers – not including the United States – being tested on arrival, and that percentage we expect to continue to escalate until we get 100 per cent.”
Travellers from the United States are exempted from the random testing. However, they do require a negative PCR test within 72 hours of their flight and must share their quarantine plans with CBSA via the ArriveCAN app to come to Canada.
Miles said the capacity to test all incoming international travellers is still being built up. The Public Health Agency of Canada hasn’t yet set a deadline to get to full testing capacity.
“So it’s 85 per cent of those travellers today and 100 per cent of the travellers that are coming from the countries that have been impacted, such as the 10 in Africa — those will be 100 per cent tested.”
Weekend COVID-19 data
Alberta identified 788 cases of COVID-19 over the last three days. Of those, 349 cases were identified Friday, 252 were identified Saturday and 187 were identified Sunday.
Hospitalizations and ICU admissions related to COVID-19 declined over the weekend. There are now 366 people in hospital with COVID-19, down from 395 on Friday. ICU admissions have dropped to 72 people from 78 people on Friday.
Of the 294 non-ICU patients in hospital, Hinshaw said 64.3 are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. Of the 72 people in ICU, 76.4 per cent are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.
Five additional deaths related to COVID-19 were reported to Alberta Health over the last three days. Alberta’s death toll from COVID-19 has reached 3,263.
Active cases of COVID-19 also continue to decline, to 4,374 on Monday.
Of the active cases, 1,748 are in the Calgary zone, 1,225 are in the Edmonton zone, 566 are in the North zone, 530 are in the Central zone, 297 are in the South zone and eight are not tied to any particular zone.
— With files from Reuters