As the sixth wave of COVID-19 affects other regions around the world, Alberta officials are warning there have been slight increases in the province’s leading indicators.
Between March 29 and April 4, there was more virus detected in wastewater, Health Minister Jason Copping said Thursday.
“It’s not a spike (like) we saw in late December and early January, and in some centres we’re seeing the data fluctuate around a level that’s in between the extremes of the last few months,” he said. “So it’s a concern and we’re monitoring it closely.”
Also on the rise during the same time period was the positivity rate from PCR tests, ranging from 24 to 32 per cent.
“As the minister mentioned, this leading indicator is trending moderately upwards, as is the wastewater data,” chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.
Despite the slight climb in rates, the health minister said the province doesn’t expect to make any changes to public health guidelines at this time. According to Copping, the numbers aren’t expected to increase to the point where COVID-19 hospitalizations would put stress on the system.
As of Thursday’s update, Alberta’s total hospital occupancy was around 90 per cent, depending on the day. According to Copping, that’s similar to this time of year in the five years before the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are a few sites in Edmonton and Calgary that are over capacity, but the health minister said that’s also normal for this time of year.
Because the province’s leading indicators are rising, Copping expects a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the coming weeks, but said the province is well positioned to manage it.
It’s a clear sign, Hinshaw said, that COVID-19 is still present in the province.
“Transitioning to an endemic state does not mean the virus has disappeared, but rather we have tools to protect ourselves allowing us to adjust to living with it.”
Earlier this week, the National Advisory Community on Immunization told provinces to prepare to roll out fourth doses for some populations.
Over the coming weeks, the country should prepare for the “rapid deployment” of a second booster program. The focus should be put on those 80 and over and residents of long-term care and other congregate living settings, NACI said.
COVID-19 treatment changes
On Wednesday, the province announced it is opening up eligibility for fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Starting April 12, those who are ages 70 and older as well as First Nations, Métis and Inuit people 65 and older can get the second booster shot.
The province says all seniors in congregate care, regardless of age, can also receive the dose.
The province will soon receive 10,000 doses of the newly approved vaccine Novavax Nuvaxovid. The vaccine is not an MRNA vaccine and those over 18 looking to receive this one can also call 811 to book an appointment starting April 12.
The province is also opening up eligibility for those who have tested positive and want to use the antiviral drug Paxlovid.
First Nations, Métis and Inuit people 45 and over who are either unvaccinated or have one dose of vaccine can now access Paxlovid. People living in congregate care regardless of vaccine status are also now eligible.
But, Hinshaw warned, the best defence is still vaccines.
“While it’s good news we can offer Paxlovid to more people, I encourage those with significant risk factors to not rely only upon it. Vaccination remains our best defence against the virus.”
The province also announced children aged 5-11 can now receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, though Hinshaw said the recommendation remains to begin or finish vaccine treatment with the Pfizer pediatric vaccine.
As of April 4, 90.2 per cent of Albertans 12 and older had received at least one dose, while 86.7 per cent of the same population had received two doses. Of those eligible, 36.7 per cent have received a booster dose.
On Wednesday, there were 990 people in hospital with COVID-19 in Alberta, with 44 of those patients being treated in intensive care.