COVID-19: Province to provide daily update on Tuesday, waiting of fresh supply of Pfizer vaccine

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Alberta’s top doctor is set to give a full COVID-19 update on Tuesday to share the latest data from Dec. 29 to Jan. 2 as the public grapples with unknowns, including testing accuracy to ensure schools and businesses are properly staffed but safe.

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The province reported 2,775 new cases of COVID-19 on Dec. 28 and most recently estimated 4,000 new cases, a pandemic high, on Dec. 30. Alberta also estimated a 30 per cent test positivity rate and 371 people in hospital.

With the surge of Omicron cases in Ontario, the Ontario government announced on Monday its school closure will last until at least Jan. 17.

Last week, Alberta extended winter break for K-12 students until Jan. 10 .

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said in a Thursday evening update that she heard concerns about the rising cases of the Omicron variant and how it would affect schools. She said concerns were raised about staffing challenges for teachers, bus drivers, custodians and more.

LaGrange said school authorities will use the extended break to gather more information and prepare for instructions to students next week. She said the extra time will allow schools to prepare themselves for a successful startup.

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She said 8.6 million at-home rapid tests will be distributed to schools across the province on Jan. 10 and 16.5 million medical-grade masks will be made available for staff and students.

YMCA asking for same supports provided to schools

With the government providing schools with access to masks and testing kits, the YMCA of Northern Alberta is asking for the same support and resources, it said in a Monday news release.

“It is just as important that child-care staff have access to rapid tests and medical masks as teachers and staff in schools,” said Annalise Yuzda, vice-president of child care at YMCA of Northern Alberta. “If our staff are sick or isolating, that impacts our ability to provide care when our families need it.”

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The YMCA said access to these resources will help them to be able to provide quality care and allow families to continue working.

Isolation period cut in half for fully vaccinated Albertans

Starting Monday, isolation periods are being cut in half for fully vaccinated Albertans — they will have to isolate for five days rather than 10, Health Minister Copping announced on Friday.

The new isolation rules only apply to those with at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine who are not showing any symptoms — others must remain isolated for the full 10 days.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said on Friday that the change is based on evidence that vaccinated people shed the virus for a shorter amount of time, making them less infectious.

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“The decision to shorten the periods of isolation is based on the science that shows full immunization does limit the duration of infectiousness,” she said.

Copping said the change is in part a response to workforce-related challenges and the new rules would apply to workplaces where disruption of service for 24 hours or more would be harmful to the public.

Pfizer shortage in the province

While the government is encouraging Albertans to roll up their sleeves for a booster shot, the province is currently facing a shortage of Pfizer doses, said Lisa Glover, assistant director for Alberta Health in an email.

She said more Pfizer vaccine supply is expected to arrive this month, but Albertans should take the vaccine readily available to them.

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“Currently there is a large supply of Moderna in Alberta. All vaccines available in Alberta are safe and effective,” said Glover. “Albertans who are eligible for booster doses are encouraged to take the first mRNA vaccine available to them, rather than waiting for a preferred brand.”

Glover said pharmacies have been advised to only schedule appointments once they have confirmation of their incoming vaccine quantity to avoid having to cancel and reschedule appointments.

Opposition demands government to release forecast of Omicron impact on hospitals

Ontario released a two-week COVID forecast that shows hospitals being overwhelmed in the next two weeks and Rachel Notley, leader of the opposition, is calling on the Alberta government to release its own forecast.

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“I am calling on Jason Kenney and the UCP to tell the truth to Albertans about the threat to our hospitals and everyone who relies on them,” Notley said in a Monday news release.

Notley said Alberta Health Services maintains a daily two-week forecast for hospital admissions.

“Jason Kenney and the UCP know what the threat to Alberta hospitals looks like and they must tell Albertans the truth,” she said.

Notley said COVID-19 hospitalizations have led to the cancellation of tens of thousands of surgeries in the province. She said the province is starting the Omicron wave at a higher level of COVID hospitalization than most other provinces and another wave is worrying for the health-care system and those still waiting for surgeries.

ktaniguchi@postmedia.com

twitter.com/kellentaniguchi

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