Alberta’s hospitals continue to be strained by the sixth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 94 more people hospitalized with the virus compared to the previous week.
On Wednesday, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced 1,220 Albertans were in hospital for the week ending April 25, up about eight per cent. Intensive care COVID patients notched up as well, to 47.
Health Minister Jason Copping said COVID-19 transmission appears to be trending downward in many Alberta communities, but Calgary’s wastewater data continues to trend upward.
“Edmonton has seen high levels recently, but the level has dropped sharply in the past week,” he said. “It’s too soon to know if it’s a start of a sustained downward trend, but the signs are hopeful, and the surrounding communities in the Capital Region are seeing a much slower increase.”
The health minister noted hospitals are continuing their two-year trend of being under “significant pressures.”
“Several of our largest sites in Edmonton and in Calgary are over 100 per cent occupancy, and emergency departments and EMS are under real strain now,” he said, pointing to the government’s plan outlined in the budget to expand system capacity.
Copping said the province has been working with AHS to increase the number of beds in hospitals under strain, as well as trying to move people through the hospital system as quickly as safely possible.
During the week of April 19 to 25, 62 more people were reported to have died of COVID-19, with ages ranging between 32 and 103.
Copping and Hinshaw said the province is working to improve access to the oral antiviral treatment Paxlovid, with the aim of allowing family doctors to prescribe it.
To date, about 1,300 prescriptions of Paxlovid have been administered to Albertans who meet the tight eligibility requirements: immunocompromised, living in long-term or supported living, or some un- and under-vaccinated populations.
The health minister hoped to announce more information about doctors prescribing the oral antiviral in the near future, but didn’t hint at whether PCR testing would expand in tandem.
AHS has created an online portal to determine who is eligible for the oral antiviral.
Hinshaw said the current eligibility balances those who can most benefit from the treatment and how the side effects from the treatments might affect them.
The chief medical officer of health said Paxlovid shouldn’t be treated as a silver bullet.
“Paxlovid is an extra line of defence that can help some people with their COVID-19 infection, but we should not and cannot solely depend on it to get us through. As has been the case since day one with this virus, we need to use many different tactics to address COVID-19.”
Copping noted that since the province recently approved the administration of fourth doses of vaccine to elderly and immunocompromised individuals, uptake has improved, including more than 21,000 fourth doses administered in the last week.
“AHS is working with operators to get doses to residents and long term care and designated supported living facilities. If you or a loved one are eligible for a fourth dose and it’s been at least five months since your third one, please book an appointment today.”
The recent increase in outbreaks at long-term care and supportive living facilities was concerning to the chief medical officer of health.
In the Calgary zone, 27 long-term care and 53 supportive living facilities were listed under outbreak on April 27, an increase of six and 10 respectively from the week before.
In the Edmonton zone, 22 long-term care and 37 supportive living facilities had the same outbreak statuses, up one and two respectively from the week before.
“We know that when transmission in the community rises, we tend to see increasing outbreaks in continuing care and other settings,” she said.
“It’s positive that given that high vaccination rates in those facilities, the case hospitalization rates and case death rates are much lower than they were in previous waves.”
Hinshaw said the health risks for those living in close proximity in those facilities is why the province has treated long-term and continuing care separately from the general population, including rolling out fourth doses to them.
The chief medical officer of health repeated her well-worn message that even with antiviral treatments on the market, vaccinations are widely-available and highly-effective against severe outcomes of catching COVID-19.
“Vaccination remains the single most effective tool we have to reduce the risk of experiencing severe illness, hospitalization and death, even against the BA.2 variant,” she said. “That is why we continue to urge Albertans to get every dose they’re eligible for.”
The AstraZeneca vaccine will no longer be available in Canada after this week. Hinshaw said Alberta has many other options, including mRNA and non-mRNA vaccines.