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COVID-19: Alberta opens up PCR testing to children under 2

Alberta’s premier and chief medical officer of health provide an update on the COVID-19 situation in the province.

Children in Alberta under two years of age can now get PCR testing for COVID-19 at Alberta Health Services facilities, the chief medical officer of health announced on Thursday.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the testing system has capacity for the addition of newborns and infants to the list of those who are eligible for PCR testing.

“This is a pragmatic approach since rapid tests are currently not licensed for use in children under the age of two,” she said Thursday.

Read more: Alberta records 22 more COVID-19 deaths

The chief medical officer of health said the ability for this age group to be tested helps with their isolation requirements as unvaccinated Albertans. Children who have symptoms and test positive are required to self-isolate for 10 days. Children who test negative for COVID-19 have to isolate until their symptoms are resolved.

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“Given this requirement and the link to test results, we want to ease the burden on parents by allowing them to access PCR testing again, since rapid testing at home is not recommended for this age group,” Hinshaw said.

Click to play video: 'Alberta updates COVID-19 PCR testing eligibility for children under 2' Alberta updates COVID-19 PCR testing eligibility for children under 2
Alberta updates COVID-19 PCR testing eligibility for children under 2 – Jan 27, 2022

She noted the isolation requirements for fully-vaccinated Albertans differ slightly: self-isolation is only required for at least five days from the first day of symptoms or a positive COVID-19 test. After that period, vaccinated Albertans can leave their home as long as their symptoms are no longer present, but must complete the 10-day isolation by wearing a well-fitting medical or cloth mask at all times, precluding dining with others.

Read more: Omicron-fuelled wave nearly triples Calgary police COVID-19 count

“The greatest transmission risk is in the few days before and after symptoms start, but it is still possible for some people to transmit the virus and infect others for up to 10 days,” Hinshaw said.

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Thursday marked the opening of the pandemic response unit at the Kaye Edmonton Clinic.

“We expect the first five patients to arrive on the unit later this afternoon,” a statement from AHS said.

Click to play video: 'Kenney confident COVID-19 restrictions will be eased by the end of March' Kenney confident COVID-19 restrictions will be eased by the end of March
Kenney confident COVID-19 restrictions will be eased by the end of March – Jan 27, 2022

“The burden of disease that Omicron has caused is straining the capacity of the system, in particular in some urban areas, and… this is meaning that there are extra spaces that needed to be opened up,” Hinshaw said.

The Edmonton PRU currently has staffing for 18 beds, AHS said.

Premier Jason Kenney noted that the hospital system in Alberta still has capacity, despite recently reaching record non-ICU admissions during the pandemic.

Read more: Free rapid COVID tests readily available in Saskatchewan but scarce in Alberta. Why?

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Using pre-pandemic data as a comparison, Kenney said the current demand on hospital beds provincewide “is not unusual.”

Across more than 100 hospitals in Alberta, 5,369 non-ICU beds were occupied, representing 87 per cent of capacity.

“The point is that there is significant stress,” Kenney said. “It is not out of line with historic trends at this time of year, although there is additional stress on the hospitals because of COVID protocols.”

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Alberta opens pandemic response unit in Edmonton amid record hospitalizations' COVID-19: Alberta opens pandemic response unit in Edmonton amid record hospitalizations
COVID-19: Alberta opens pandemic response unit in Edmonton amid record hospitalizations – Jan 27, 2022

On Thursday, the province reported COVID-19 hospitalizations went up to 1,469, up from 1,418 on Wednesday. ICU cases edged down to 106.

Fourteen new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the past day, bringing the pandemic total to 3,518.

The recently-reported deaths include:

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  • A woman in her 50s and two women in their 70s in the Calgary zone
  • Two men in their 70s, a man and two women in their 80s, and a man in his 90s in the Edmonton zone
  • A woman in her 70s and a man in his 90s in the North zone
  • A man in his 40s and a man in his 70s in the Central zone
  • And a man in his 90s in the South zone
  • The provincial positivity rate was 34.7 per cent after 9,352 tests were done in the last 24 hours.

Read more: Edmonton Zone care facilities see huge increases in COVID-19 outbreaks

Active cases documented by PCR testing totaled 44,301 on Thursday, with 3,218 new cases.

Public health officials have noted that because only certain Albertans are eligible to receive PCR tests, the true number of people with COVID-19 is likely 10 times higher than numbers being reported.

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