Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping said there was “a lot of good news” in the data, the day after the province released its weekly COVID-19 numbers.
Referencing his comments two weeks ago that the province appears to be past the peak of the sixth wave fuelled by the BA.2 Omicron subvariant, Copping said “we are past this wave and in a period of declining transmission.
“Barring the arrival of any new variant or subvariant that behaves differently, we expect to see low transmission rates throughout the summer, especially as more activities move outside.”
The most recent update to the province’s data showed the presence of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants in Alberta in May — one or two cases per day. Both are described as being more transmissible but no less severe than the original Omicron variant.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw defended the province’s surveillance of emerging variants and subvariants, saying Alberta has representative systems that can capture diseases circulating in the community.
Joining the semi-monthly briefing from home, she said expanding availability of PCR testing early in the pandemic was not for disease surveillance, but was to put in measures around cases and contacts to contain the spread.
“As the virus has evolved and as the incubation period has grown shorter, the virus has become more infectious,” Hinshaw said. “It is simply not possible to contain the virus with the use of broad PCR testing.
“And so what we’re doing right now with respect to using wastewater surveillance as well as using geographically-representative community surveillance of PCR swabs as well as the PCR tests that come in through emergency departments and hospitals, is a good representation of what is circulating in the community and would help us understand what the strains are that are driving transmission.”
On Wednesday, the province said 42 more COVID-19 deaths occurred in the week of May 31 to June 6, but the total number of deaths of the coronavirus – 4,567 – a net increase of nine from the week before.
An Alberta Health spokesperson said a standard review showed 33 previously-reported COVID deaths between October 2021 and April 2022 have been reclassified as non-COVID and removed from the total.
“There can be a delay in a death being reported to Alberta Health or in a death being confirmed post-mortem as having COVID-19 as a contributing cause,” Lisa Glover said in an email on Thursday.
All of the 42 new deaths were in Albertans older than 50. The deaths of 16 people in their 90s, 13 people in their 80s, five in their 70s and six people in their 60s were attributed to COVID-19. One centenarian also died of COVID-19 in the most recent reporting period.
The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital dropped to 816, a reduction of 115, and 24 people in ICU, five fewer than the week before.
Copping said the wave of patients straining an already exhausted health-care system is beginning to recede, with smaller regional centres seeing pre-pandemic numbers. But patient numbers at hospitals in Edmonton and Calgary are still high, with some at over 100 per cent occupancy.
The seven-day average positivity rate from PCR testing – which was restricted to Albertans with clinical risk factors and who live or work in high-risk settings in January – was down 1.8 per cent to 15.1 per cent.
Hinshaw said Albertans now have the summer season “on our side” to help drive down the disease’s transmission.
“However, that being said, it is important that we remember that learning to live with COVID does not mean forgetting about it,” she added. “COVID-19 is still present in our communities and can pose a risk to us, our loved ones and our health-care system if we let it.
“We only need to look at our data to see that there are still cases across the province, and while fewer by the day, there are still many Albertans who are seriously ill.”