Alberta is seeing increases in mid-summer transmission of COVID-19, likely driven by the Omicron subvariant BA.5, according to a provincial spokesperson.
Wastewater levels of the virus in Edmonton and Calgary have been trending upwards in the last couple of weeks, Lisa Glover told Global News. Red Deer and Medicine Hat have shown similar trends.
Omicron subvariants have also been steadily increasing for the last month. But delays in genetic sequencing are resulting in the most recent reports of the Omicron variant of concern (VOC) being represented as a combination of BA.1, BA.2, BA.4 and BA.5 on the province’s VOC dashboard.
On Tuesday, the World Health Organization warned the highly transmissible BA.5 subvariant is spreading at a “very intense level” and continues to drive waves of new cases.
“The virus is running freely and countries are not effectively managing the disease burden,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom told a virtual press conference from Geneva, Switzerland.
The seven-day average PCR positivity rate in Alberta for the week of July 5 was 18.3 per cent, up from 15 per cent from the prior week.
On Tuesday, the province announced Albertans needing a PCR test to inform medical treatment must have a referral from a health-care professional. The highly-accurate molecular tests remain available only to those who have clinical risk factors for severe outcomes or live and work in high-risk settings.
In the weekly pandemic figures, 552 people were hospitalized, down from 568 the week before. Sixteen people are in ICU, down from 21 the week before.
In the week of July 5, 19 new COVID-19 deaths were documented but adjustments to 23 prior reports brought the pandemic death toll to 4,332.
Awaiting fourth doses
On Wednesday, Ontario expanded eligibility for fourth doses to anyone aged 18 to 59 years old amid a seventh wave driven by BA.5.
Ontario joined Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Yukon and Nunavut in opening up second boosters to all adults. British Columbia will open up fourth doses in the fall to citizens over 12.
Alberta remains the only province restricting fourth doses to those 70 years old and older. People living in congregate care settings, individuals requiring a fourth dose for international travel and First Nations, Inuit and Metis people aged 30 and up are also able to access second boosters.
Glover said the province is still reviewing the latest federal guidance on expanding access to fourth doses, “and we’ll provide an update in the near future.”
On June 29, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended people at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 “should be offered a fall COVID-19 vaccine booster dose regardless of the number of booster doses previously received.” NACI also recommended people aged 12 to 64 years old also get booster doses in the fall.
According to data from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Alberta lags all other provinces and territories for third doses among people over 12.
About 45 per cent of eligible Albertans aged 12 and older received a third dose, and just more than 210,000 fourth doses have been administered to Albertans – representing 4.8 per cent of the entire population, lagging behind other provinces and territories.
–With files from Saba Aziz, Global News, and The Canadian Press.