Alberta officials were cautiously optimistic on Wednesday as the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 dropped over last week.
Between May 3 and May 9, the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 dropped to 1,225, with 37 of those people in the ICU.
That’s compared to 1,267 in hospital as of last week’s update with 46 people in the ICU.
“It’s still early days,” Health Minister Jason Copping said. “All these numbers fluctuate from day to day, and they won’t necessarily drop in a straight line from here.
“It looks like the peak in hospitalizations was April 26, around two weeks ago.”
Also dropping across most of the province is the prevalence of COVID-19 in wastewater testing and the PCR positivity rate, Copping said.
Between May 3 and May 9, the PCR positivity rate ranged from 16.8 to 26.1 per cent. Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the average positivity rate during that time period was 20.7 per cent.
That’s about half of what the positivity rate was in January and down from about 27 per cent last month, Copping said.
“This is good news for Albertans and for our hospitals and for our health system overall,” he added.
“Assuming it continues, it will mean fewer admissions, fewer beds blocked and fewer staff off sick because of COVID.”
Hospital occupancy in Edmonton and Calgary is over 100 per cent at some sites. In smaller communities, occupancy is in line with what was seen before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Copping.
“COVID-19 is going to keep impacting the system right across the country for some time even as the current wave of the virus recedes,” he said.
Though, the chief medical officer of health warned the virus is still a threat as she confirmed 70 COVID-19 deaths had been reported to the health authority between May 3 and May 9.
“These severe outcomes show us this virus continues to pose a significant risk to many in our province, especially to those who have not yet been vaccinated or have not received all the doses they’re eligible for,” Hinshaw said.
It’s the second weekly update in a row where there has been an average of 10 COVID-19 deaths per day, but Hinshaw doesn’t expect to see those types of numbers for much longer.
According to Hinshaw, in previous waves the province has seen leading indicators like case numbers and wastewater numbers drop first, followed by hospitalization numbers and then the number of deaths reported.
She suspects the same is happening here.
“I would expect that this is that final indicator showing the impact of the BA.2 surge and that, as we’re starting to see some of those other indicators start to turn downwards, that we would expect to see the same thing in our number of deaths.”
It’s just another reason, Hinshaw said, for those who haven’t received all the vaccine doses they’re eligible for to do so as soon as they can.
According to Hinshaw, those 60-79 years of age were more than 17 times more likely to end up in hospital with COVID-19 if they were unvaccinated. That same age group was around 25 per cent more likely to be admitted to the ICU.
“These numbers make a compelling case for getting every dose you’re eligible for to avoid the worst outcomes this disease can bring,” she said.
As of May 9, more than 120,000 eligible Albertans had received their fourth dose of vaccine and Copping expects that number to climb next month as more people reach five months since their third dose.
The province also announced an expansion to who is eligible for the antiviral drug Paxlovid. Effective immediately, people 60 years of age and older and First Nations people 50 years of age and older can access Paxlovid if they have two or fewer doses and one preexisting condition.
People 70 and older and First Nations people 60 and older with three or fewer doses and two or more preexisting conditions can also access the drug.
Time is of the essence, Copping said of using Paxlovid, so those who test positive and think they may be eligible are encouraged to call their doctor or Alberta Health Services.
A list of preexisting conditions that make someone eligible for Paxlovid is available on AHS’ website.