COVID-19 live updates: Alberta’s restock of rapid tests delayed; Omicron cases dwarf official reports across Canada; Feds shut down Raptors season in Toronto

Watch this page throughout the day for updates on COVID-19 in Edmonton

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With COVID-19 news changing every day, we have created this file to keep you up-to-date on all the latest stories and information in and around Edmonton.

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What’s happening now

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Help us tell the COVID-19 story in Edmonton

As Alberta continues to navigate the unpredictable waves of COVID-19, we’re looking to hear your stories on this evolving situation.

  • If you are a healthcare worker, how does the Omicron variant compare with past waves of the pandemic?
  • Did you or someone you love catch Omicron over the holidays? If so, how did you fare?
  • Are you a parent? How do you feel about your child/children returning to in-class learning?
  • Have you had any issues booking/receiving your COVID-19 booster shot? If so, tell us what happened?
  • Have you or a loved one had a surgery rescheduled or cancelled in recent weeks?

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9:07 a.m.

Alberta’s restock of COVID-19 rapid tests to be delayed

Kellen Taniguchi

COVID-19 rapid test at her work in Calgary, Alberta on March 1, 2021.
COVID-19 rapid test at her work in Calgary, Alberta on March 1, 2021. Photo by Leah Hennel /AHS

The expected restock of rapid COVID-19 antigen test kits in Alberta has been delayed by the federal government and manufacturers, says the province’s top doctor.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw did not mention a specific reason for the delay or when the tests are expected to arrive and be distributed across Alberta when she made the announcement on Twitter Tuesday evening.

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A Jan. 7 update on Alberta Blue Cross’ website said there are no rapid tests available at local pharmacies and Alberta Health has advised that additional supplies of rapid testing kits should be available to ship to pharmacies the week of Jan. 17. The site will be updated once more test kits become available.

The absence of rapid test kits in the province comes at a time where PCR testing capacity is overwhelmed, as Hinshaw announced further reduction of the list of people eligible for free PCR testing on Monday.

Alberta is now limiting PCR testing to those who live and work in high-risk settings, such as continuing care residents and health-care workers, as the Omicron variant continues to spread. The recommendation has been for the majority of Albertans to use rapid tests.

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Wednesday

‘We’ve never seen this kind of transmission before’: Omicron cases dwarf official reports across Canada

Tyler Dawson, National Post

Alberta Health Services staff conduct drive-through COVID-19 tests at the Richmond Road testing site in Calgary on December 30, 2021. Gavin Young/Postmedia
Alberta Health Services staff conduct drive-through COVID-19 tests at the Richmond Road testing site in Calgary on December 30, 2021. Gavin Young/Postmedia

With Omicron cases skyrocketing across Canada, figures from Alberta suggest that the official numbers, rolled out in data sheets and at press conferences, don’t capture the full extent of the fifth wave.

On Monday afternoon, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said that there are roughly 57,000 active COVID-19 cases in the province.

“We’ve never seen this kind of transmission before,” said Hinshaw, adding that anywhere you go, someone is likely to have COVID-19. “We can’t stop this, but we still can slow the spread.”

The actual figure for active cases in Alberta could be at least 10 times higher, Hinshaw said, shedding light on the extent to which Omicron is spreading, undocumented by the strained testing system.

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“It’s very clear with a 40 per cent positivity rate, transmission is higher than it’s ever been before and we should assume that, at minimum, we’re seeing about 10 times or more the number of cases than we’re diagnosing through PCR,” Hinshaw said.

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Wednesday

UK PM Boris Johnson apologizes for attending lockdown party

Reuters

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits a science room under construction at Ealing Fields High School in west London in June 2020.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits a science room under construction at Ealing Fields High School in west London in June 2020. Photo by TOBY MELVILLE / POOL / AFP /Getty

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered his “heartfelt apologies” on Wednesday for attending a “bring your own booze” gathering at his official residence during the country’s first coronavirus lockdown as opponents said he must resign.

Johnson admitted for the first time that he had attended the party at 10 Downing Street on May 20, 2020, when COVID-19 rules limited social gatherings to a bare minimum, and said he understood the anger the revelations had caused.

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“I know the rage they feel with me over the government I lead when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules,” an ashen-faced Johnson told parliament.

Johnson, who won a landslide 2019 election victory on a promise to secure Britain’s exit from the European Union, said he regretted his action and had thought the gathering was a work event – drawing jeers from opposition lawmakers.

“I went into that garden just after six on the 20th of May 2020 to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working,” he said. “With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside.”

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Wednesday

‘Democratization of COVID’: Four in 10 Canadians know someone recently infected, poll finds

Shanon Kirkey, National Post

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Thirty-eight per cent of Canadians know someone in their immediate family or circle of friends who has contracted COVID in the last 10 days, according to a new poll.
Thirty-eight per cent of Canadians know someone in their immediate family or circle of friends who has contracted COVID in the last 10 days, according to a new poll. Photo by Peter J. Thompson/National Post

Nearly four in 10 Canadians know someone close to them who has been infected with COVID-19 in the past 10 days, a new poll shows — further evidence that appears to support a warning from British Columbia’s provincial health officer, that all will be exposed to Omicron at some point.

If everyone will inevitably be exposed, what then? Will it “normalize” COVID? The more people who experience COVID, and the more who fare relatively well because of vaccination, the more people will become resigned to simply living with the virus and increasingly weary of — and increasingly vocal about expressing their displeasure with — social restrictions, some observers say.

One eminent group of scientists is already calling for the focus to shift to “the ‘new normal’ of life with COVID,” a life that doesn’t include eradication or a “zero COVID” strategy, but one that sees COVID monitored along with the flu and other respiratory viruses, and a “peak week threshold” for hospitalizations and deaths established that, if crossed, would trigger the emergency use of measures to slow the spread.

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Wednesday

Feds shut down Raptors season in Toronto over U.S. travel, quarantine concerns

Ryan Tumilty, National Post

The Raptors are Canada’s only NBA team, leaving them no choice but to travel to the U.S. to resume their season.
The Raptors are Canada’s only NBA team, leaving them no choice but to travel to the U.S. to resume their season. Photo by John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports

The federal government called foul on the NBA’s COVID-19 plans over fears Toronto Raptors’ players would spread the virus when they returned from U.S. road trips, according to a memo on the decision obtained by National Post.

Professional sports leagues had most of their 2020 seasons delayed or cancelled due to the pandemic. The NBA and the NHL shut down in March 2020 and finished the remainder of that season in rigid bubbles.

But for the 2020/2021 season both leagues hoped to resume somewhat regular play. The NHL moved all of the Canadian teams into the same division to virtually eliminate cross-border travel and had other testing and quarantine measures that are still in place.

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The Raptors are Canada’s only NBA team leaving them no choice but to travel to the U.S, which would have been difficult to manage under Canada’s then quarantine rules, which required all returning travellers to isolate for 14 days.

The Raptors wanted a national interest exemption from those quarantine rules, which the government issued in rare cases to allow people to skip the mandatory quarantine.

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Tuesday

Alberta sees 73 more COVID-19 hospitalizations, 40 in Edmonton

Hamdi Issawi

The new variant – identified as B.1.1.529 has been declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organization and assigned the name Omicron. GETTY
The new variant – identified as B.1.1.529 has been declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organization and assigned the name Omicron. GETTY SunMedia

COVID-19 hospitalizations are climbing in Alberta with the Edmonton area seeing most of the latest increase.

On Tuesday, Alberta reported 708 patients in hospital with the disease — 73 more than it reported the day before and 40 of which were identified in the Edmonton zone.

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There are 237 COVID-19 patients in Edmonton zone hospitals, and 287 in the Calgary zone, which saw 25 new hospitalizations since Monday.

Of those hospitalized with the disease, Alberta identified 80 in intensive care, eight more than reported yesterday, while eight more people infected with COVID-19 died in Alberta, raising the province’s death toll to 3,352.

The province also identified 4,704 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the number of active cases to 58,613. The number of new cases reported Tuesday is lower than what Alberta has seen over the past few days , but the province recently made changes to PCR testing eligibility.

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Tuesday

Hinshaw has legal authority to make decisions on COVID-19 measures: health law experts

Jason Herring, Calgary

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Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw provides an update on the province’s response to the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. cine requirements and COVID-19 measures.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw provides an update on the province’s response to the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. cine requirements and COVID-19 measures. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw has the legal authority to introduce public health measures related to COVID-19, according to legislation and health law experts.

The top doctor responded brusquely when asked at a Monday press conference why new public health measures weren’t being implemented to combat the Omicron wave of COVID-19, saying, “Decisions about restrictions are not mine to make.”

But three legal academics interviewed by Postmedia Tuesday agreed Hinshaw has the statutory authority under section 29 of Alberta’s Public Health Act to “take whatever steps the medical officer of health considers necessary” in combating a communicable disease or a public health emergency.

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“It is incorrect, in my view, for her to say she’s not the decision-maker in relation to these matters. … Strictly legally speaking, she is the decision-maker,” said University of Calgary law professor Shaun Fluker.

“And if any of these decisions are challenged, by assertions they are unfair or unjust or there is something arbitrary about them or what have you, she is the decision-maker, and the courts — if they are asked, and they are being asked — to weigh into these things, they aren’t looking to somebody else’s office as the decision-maker. It’s her office.”

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Tuesday

Cross-border vaccine mandate will further disrupt supply chains, say Canadian truckers

Bill Kaufmann, Calgary

File photo: Road that runs along the international border between Montana and Alberta. Sweetgrass, Montana, USA on the left and Coutts, Alberta, Canada on Friday March 20, 2020.
File photo: Road that runs along the international border between Montana and Alberta. Sweetgrass, Montana, USA on the left and Coutts, Alberta, Canada on Friday March 20, 2020. Photo by Mike Drew/Postmedia

Reese Evans said a looming cross-border vaccine mandate is costing his trucking company up to 20 per cent of its drivers.

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That’s a time when worker shortages have already “cobwebbed” about a quarter of the Lethbridge-area hauler’s fleet that specializes in hauling raw materials between the U.S. and Canada.

“There are some major, major repercussions about to happen from this,” said Evans.

Starting Saturday , Canada will require all truckers entering from the U.S. to be fully vaccinated or be required to enter a 14-day quarantine. The mandate is the first policy measure taken since the pandemic began that could limit cross-border trucking traffic.

Evans says the measure will not only impact his industry, but consumers will also pay the price.

“Freight rates have already gone up 20 to 30 per cent in the past six months and it’s going to be going up a lot more,” said Evans.

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“Who’s going to be paying for that? Consumers. It’s going to be crazy.”

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Tuesday

More Edmonton teachers and students isolating with COVID-19 on second day of school

Kellen Taniguchi

Students at Austin O’Brien High School are going back to school after their Christmas break was extended by a week due to the Omicron virus. Taken on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022 in Edmonton. Greg Southam-Postmedia
Students at Austin O’Brien High School are going back to school after their Christmas break was extended by a week due to the Omicron virus. Taken on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022 in Edmonton. Greg Southam-Postmedia Photo by Greg Southam /Postmedia

Edmonton’s school divisions are reporting an increase of 66 teacher absences on Tuesday, bringing the number of teachers missing the second day of school to 737.

Edmonton Publics Schools reported 494 teacher absences — 36 have gone unfilled, said Megan Normandeau, communications consultant for the division.

“This month, our division has hired an additional 29 temporary contract teachers to help fill emergent teacher jobs that are unfilled from the standard supply teacher pool,” she said in an email. “These 29 teachers have been deployed today to cover many of the 36 positions mentioned above.”

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Normandeau said no classes, grades or schools have been moved online as of Tuesday morning.

There were also 262 educational assistants absent on Tuesday, with 125 of those roles going unfilled, she said.

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Tuesday

Quebec working on new ‘significant’ health tax for the unvaccinated

Christopher Nardi, National Post

Quebec Premier Francois Legault speaks about COVID-19 at a news conference while visiting a farmer’s market in Quebec City, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault speaks about COVID-19 at a news conference while visiting a farmer’s market in Quebec City, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. Photo by The Canadian Press

The Quebec government wants to impose a “significant” financial penalty on the ‘small minority’ of Quebecers who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Premier François Legault made the announcement — which would be a first in Canada — during a press conference on Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, there is still a small minority, about 10 per cent of the population, that refuses to get vaccinated,” Legault said. “I sense the frustration from Quebecers towards that minority that … is clogging our hospitals.”

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“That is why I am announcing that we are currently working on a health contribution that will be charged to all Quebec adults who refuse to get vaccinated,” he continued, adding that people with medical exemptions would be excluded from the new tax.

Legault did not announce any details nor a date for the new tax, nor did he specify the amount except to say that it would be “significant.”

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Tuesday

Staff shortages delay ambulance response times in Canada

Reuters

An Alberta Health Services ambulance is seen leaving the the Royal Alexandria Hospital in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. AHS and the province announced a pilot project involving two new Rapid Transfer Units at the Royal Alexandria Hospital and the University of Alberta Hospital. The units are intended to improve patient flow at emergency rooms and reduce the amount of time EMS crews spend waiting in hospitals. Ian Kucerak/Edmonton Sun/ QMI Agency
An Alberta Health Services ambulance is seen leaving the the Royal Alexandria Hospital in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. AHS and the province announced a pilot project involving two new Rapid Transfer Units at the Royal Alexandria Hospital and the University of Alberta Hospital. The units are intended to improve patient flow at emergency rooms and reduce the amount of time EMS crews spend waiting in hospitals. Ian Kucerak/Edmonton Sun/ QMI Agency Photo by Ian Kucerak /Ian Kucerak/Edmonton Sun/QMI Age

From delayed ambulances to police shortages, Canadian public agencies hit hard by COVID-19 worker absences have cut back on service, rearranged staff or warned the public that emergency responses may be disrupted.

Over the weekend, paramedics in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, said there were briefly no ambulances available to respond to emergencies. The city said about 12.8% of its “essential and critical services” staff were off due to COVID-19 as of Monday.

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It is not unusual for ambulances to be tied up at any moment, city spokesperson Brad Ross said. But with workers sidelined by COVID-19 and stretched hospitals delaying ambulance offloading, it was becoming more common.

Low-priority calls may be put off and some will go to the fire department, he said.

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Tuesday

An 84-year-old man in India gets the COVID vaccine 12 times, claiming it cures joint pain

National Post

A medical staff fills a syringe with the Covishield, AstraZeneca-Oxford’s Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine in Mumbai on April 19, 2021.
A medical staff fills a syringe with the Covishield, AstraZeneca-Oxford’s Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine in Mumbai on April 19, 2021. Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP /Getty

A jab-happy pensioner illegally took twelve doses of the COVID-19 vaccine before police caught up with him.

Brahamdev Mandal, an 84-year-old resident in Bihar who received 11 doses in roughly ten months, faces a slew of charges, according to a complaint made by Primary Health Care (PHC) in Puraini.

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Mandal used the ID cards of people who needed the lifesaving medicine on some occasions and would lie to health officials, according to the complaint. The retired postman booked dates at different vaccine centres, including two with 30 minutes of each other in April.

“We have already found evidence that he took eight jabs from four places,” Amarendra Pratap Shahi, civil surgeon of Madhepura, told the BBC.

Mandal who “kept detailed handwritten” of the dates, times and location of the vaccine, told BBC he actually received 11 doses between February and December.

His twelfth, which was not set to be his last, was taken on Jan. 4, police say.

The vaccine buff said he wanted to feel stronger and claimed the shots got rid of the joint pain he had been suffering for 8 years.

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Tuesday

‘Asymptomatic carriage’: South African studies hint at why Omicron spreads so quickly

Reuters

Illustration of coronavirus , covid-19, with tentacles on red background. Contagion and propagation of a disease. 3D illustration.
Illustration of coronavirus , covid-19, with tentacles on red background. Contagion and propagation of a disease. 3D illustration. Photo by hadkhanong_Thailand /Getty Images/iStockphoto

Preliminary findings from two South African clinical trials suggest the Omicron coronavirus variant has a much higher rate of “asymptomatic carriage” than earlier variants, which could explain why it has spread so rapidly across the globe.

The studies – one of which was carried out when Omicron infections were surging in South Africa last month and another which resampled participants around the same time – found a far greater number of people tested positive for the coronavirus but were not showing symptoms compared to previous trials.

In the Ubuntu study evaluating the efficacy of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in people living with HIV, 31% of 230 participants undergoing screening tested positive, with all 56 samples available for sequencing analysis verified to be Omicron.

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“This is in stark contrast to the positivity rate pre-Omicron, which ranged from less than 1% to 2.4%,” the researchers said in a statement.

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Letter of the day

Alberta man receives t-shirt after surviving cold snap. (Cartoon by Malcolm Mayes)
Alberta man receives t-shirt after surviving cold snap. (Cartoon by Malcolm Mayes) Malcolm Mayes

Rein in post-secondary administration costs

Re. “Alberta puts its universities at a disadvantage,” Opinion, Jan. 7

I applaud Trevor Harrison’s and Richard Mueller’s focus on bloated administrative costs in Alberta’s post-secondary institutes (PSI). It is the primary factor in a long trajectory of reduced spending on instructional delivery to students. Too often the debate about the level of college and university funding pits one group against another. Instead, the question should be why administrative costs are skyrocketing while expenditures on direct instruction are shrinking and putting students at a disadvantage.

As a NAIT instructor for over three decades, I have witnessed firsthand the astounding expansion of bureaucracy. Layers of bureaucracy and an army of deans, associate deans, managers, and executive leadership have been created. The cost is enormous. Spend the money on educating young minds, not on bureaucrats.

Within just the past five years, instructional delivery expenses nosedived from 51 per cent to 41 per cent of total NAIT expenses. The president’s position for the past two full fiscal years has cost NAIT over $1 million per year. The four, soon to be five, president and vice-president positions were paid a total of $2.6 million in salary and benefits for the year ended June 30, 2020. Spending on social engineering and politically correct initiatives has skyrocketed.

I second Harrison and Mueller on their call for a more detailed analysis on the spending at PSIs. It is past time that the government, and especially the advanced education minister, trade lip service with meaningful action benefitting students.

Tony Vogrincic, Edmonton

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Letters Welcome

We invite you to write letters to the editor. A maximum of 150 words is preferred. Letters must carry a first and last name, or two initials and a last name, and include an address and daytime telephone number. All letters are subject to editing. We don’t publish letters addressed to others or sent to other publications. Email: letters@edmontonjournal.com


Tuesday

There’s enough vaccines for all Canadians to get a fouth dose, Trudeau says

Reuters

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves after speaking at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves after speaking at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday the government has secured enough COVID-19 vaccine doses for all eligible Canadians to receive a booster as well as a fourth dose, according a statement from Trudeau’s office.

Official data show that as of Dec. 18, 87.3% of Canadians aged 12 and older had received two shots while the figure for children aged 5 to 12 was just 1.3%.

Trudeau made the comments in a call with Canada’s provincial and territorial premiers, as the country grapples with rising infection and hospitalization rates due to the highly infectious Omicron variant.

Trudeau said the government also plans to deliver 140 million rapid COVID tests to provinces and territories in January, according to the statement.

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Monday

PCR testing limited to high-risk cases; two northern Alberta communities facing ER doctor shortages

Hamdi Issawi, Dustin Cook

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw provides an update on the province’s response to COVID-19 and the new Omicron variant during a news conference in Edmonton on Monday Nov. 29, 2021.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw provides an update on the province’s response to COVID-19 and the new Omicron variant during a news conference in Edmonton on Monday Nov. 29, 2021. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

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Alberta is limiting COVID-19 PCR testing to high-risk individuals as surging cases caused by the Omicron variant begins to strain the province’s capacity to monitor the infection rate.

At a Monday news conference, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said that while widespread PCR testing was possible in previous waves of the pandemic, the highly transmissible variant of concern sweeping the province has made it impossible to manage the disease in the same way.

“With our recent increase of Omicron cases, demand for PCR testing has pushed our testing system beyond its capacity,” Hinshaw said. “As many Albertans have found, just getting an appointment for a swab takes several days, and the time it takes to get results back is now close to 48 hours after the swab is taken.”

Effective immediately, Hinshaw added, PCR testing will be limited to those who live and work in high-risk settings , including continuing care residents, health-care workers and staff at acute care settings, shelters and correctional facilities.

On Monday, Alberta reported 17,578 new cases of COVID-19 since Thursday, including 6,161 on Friday, 6,136 on Saturday and 5,281 on Sunday.

There are currently 57,332 documented cases of the disease in Alberta, with 635 people being treated in hospital, including 72 patients in intensive care.However, Hinshaw said, with the province’s test positivity rate at about 40 per cent, Albertan’s should expect that there are more cases than reported.

“We should assume that — at minimum — we’re seeing about 10 times or more the number of cases that we’re diagnosing through PCR,” she said.

Hinshaw also noted that some historical figures dealing with the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care have been corrected to account for some hospitals that have redesignated units during the pandemic.

Six more people have died of the disease, which puts the provincial death toll at 3,344.

There will be no physician coverage at the Wabasca-Desmarais Health Care Centre emergency department until Jan. 15 at 8 a.m., Alberta Health Services said in a Friday news release. For the week without doctor access, emergency responders will be re-routed to one of three health-care centres more than 100 kilometres away.

Ambulances will instead transfer patients to the Slave Lake Healthcare Centre, 122 kilometres away, Athabasca Healthcare Centre, a 175-kilometre trip, or Boyle Healthcare Centre, 199 kilometres away.

In Cold Lake, the emergency department will face intermittent loss of physician coverage until Jan. 14. The health-care centre will be without a doctor from 3-11 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, from 11 p.m. Wednesday to 3 p.m. Thursday and from 11 p.m. Thursday to 7 a.m. Friday.

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Monday

Back to school: Omicron already keeping Edmonton teachers and staff at home

Kellen Taniguchi

A classroom in Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School, part of the Toronto District School Board.
A classroom in Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School, part of the Toronto District School Board. Photo by POOL /via REUTERS

As students across Alberta returned to the classroom on Monday, Edmonton’s school divisions reported hundreds of absent staff members.

As of Monday morning, Edmonton Public Schools had 454 teacher absences, with 22 of those absences going unfilled, said Megan Normandeau, communications consultant for the division. She added 124 educational assistant absences were unfilled.

However, no classes, grades or schools have been moved online, said Normandeau.

Christine Meadows, communications and engagement services manager for Edmonton Catholic Schools, said 420 staff members were absent on Monday, including 217 teachers.

The president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) said the staffing shortages will continue to be a concern.

“We know operationally this is going to be extremely difficult because what happens now is we have a short supply of substitute teachers who also have a lot of concerns about working during a pandemic as well,” said ATA president Jason Schilling.

“We’ve been encouraging government and school boards to put substitute teachers on contract so that they have benefits and income security in case they themselves become sick. So, some of them are hesitant about entering classrooms without that type of security.”

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Monday

Opposition MPs call for emergency probe of health agency’s use of Canadians’ mobile data during COVID

Anja Karadeglija, National Post

Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien has also been asked to look into the Public Health Agency of Canada’s collecting of cell phone data.
Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien has also been asked to look into the Public Health Agency of Canada’s collecting of cell phone data. Photo by Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/File

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All three main opposition parties are calling for a review of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s plan to continue using anonymized cellphone location data of Canadians to track travel patterns during the pandemic.

Conservative MPs called PHAC’s actions “extremely alarming,” and asked for an emergency meeting of the House of Commons ethics committee, a request supported by the Bloc Québécois.

NDP ethics critic Matthew Green said it was an “intrusion on the privacy of Canadians, who deserve to know what kind of information the government” is and plans on collecting.

The Public Health Agency is seeking to extend its use of the de-identified, anonymized data. It posted a request for proposals in December, asking for a contract for a third party to “provide access to cell-tower/operator location data to assist in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and for other public health applications.” The contractor would provide “de-identified cell-tower based location data from January 1, 2019.” The contract ends on 2023, with the option to renew for another three years.

The first contract to track the data expired in the fall.

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Monday

Calgary sees massive disparity in pediatric COVID-19 vaccine uptake

Jason Herring, Calgary

Staff prepare vaccine at the pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Village Square Leisure Centre in northeast Calgary on Sunday, June 6, 2021.
Staff prepare vaccine at the pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Village Square Leisure Centre in northeast Calgary on Sunday, June 6, 2021. Photo by Gavin Young/Postmedia

Wildly varying uptake for pediatric COVID-19 vaccines across Calgary shows the province’s rollout of the shots has been inequitable, community leaders say.

While 39 per cent of Alberta children aged five to 11 have now received at least one dose of vaccination against the novel coronavirus, local geographic data reveal a significant disparity in uptake rates in different parts of Calgary. In Calgary Elbow, 64.2 per cent of these children have received their first dose, but that number drops to 31 per cent in the upper northeast, 22 per cent in the lower northeast and 23.8 per cent in the east.

The trend is also seen in Edmonton, where pediatric vaccine rates sit at 63.4 per cent in Edmonton Twin Brooks, compared to only 20.7 per cent in the city’s Abbotsfield region.

Dr. Gabriel Fabreau, a general internist and assistant professor at the University of Calgary who works in northeast Calgary, said he worries low immunization rates among children will contribute to widespread transmission within schools, which reopened Monday, and increase risk of negative health outcomes.

“It’s a hard problem, because kids need to be in school. . . I 100 per cent agree with sending them, but I think that Omicron is so infectious, and it’s in the air, that we have to do as much as we possibly can to reduce the spread in schools,” Fabreau said. He cited a recent Journal of the American Medical Association study which found one dose of vaccine can reduce risk of MIS-C by 91 per cent, with shots helping to protect children from the rare but serious inflammatory condition which can occur after a COVID-19 infection.

“The proportion of kids that will be very, very sick is going to be low, hopefully, still. But a very small number of a huge number is still a lot, and every case of MIS-C that can be prevented should be.”

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Monday

Alberta COVID cases top 57,000: Top doctor says true number likely 10 times higher

The Canadian Press

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw gives a COVID-19 pandemic update from the media room at the Alberta legislature in Edmonton on July 28, 2021.
Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw gives a COVID-19 pandemic update from the media room at the Alberta legislature in Edmonton on July 28, 2021. Photo by Ian Kucerak /Postmedia, file

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says the more than 57,000 active cases of COVID-19 in the province are a tiny fraction of the true spread of the virus.

I couldn’t give a specific number, but it’s very clear with 40 per cent positivity rate, that transmission is higher than it’s ever been before,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw told reporters Monday.

“We should assume that at minimum we’re seeing about 10 times or more the number of cases that we’re diagnosing through PCR (tests).

“It’s my belief that we need to prepare for a significant impact (to the health system) at this point given the cases we’ve seen.”

Hinshaw said cases brought on by the Omicron variant have swamped testing — people wanting a PCR lab test need to book days in advance and are waiting up to two days to get results back.

Starting immediately, she said only high-risk cases are eligible for PCR tests, including continuing care residents and front-line health-care workers, in order to speed up processing.

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Monday

Edmonton Catholic Schools received supply of KN95 masks donated by Med PPE Canada last year

Kellen Taniguchi

3M Co. N95 particulate respirators are arranged for a photograph in Hong Kong, China.
3M Co. N95 particulate respirators are arranged for a photograph in Hong Kong, China. Photo by Justin Chin /Bloomberg, file

Edmonton Catholic Schools confirmed Monday it received a supply of KN95 masks from the province after some teachers took to social media to question if the 91,000 masks donated by Med PPE Canada last year were ever given to staff.

Christine Meadows, communications and engagement services manager, said the division received 516 packages of 10-pack KN95 masks and all were distributed by last October 2021.

A Jan. 12, tweet by Med PPE Canada about its donation of the masks was flooded by replies from local teachers saying they never received one of the masks.

“Distribution to individual schools and staff was coordinated by each school authority,” said Dylan Topal, acting press secretary for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. “The government of Alberta remains thankful to Med PPE Canada Inc. for their generous donation.”

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Monday

U.S. CDC advises Americans to avoid travelling to Canada

Reuters

As of Monday, Canada is now considered a ‘Level four’ risk along with 80 other countries
As of Monday, Canada is now considered a ‘Level four’ risk along with 80 other countries Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday advised against travel to Canada because of a rising number of COVID-19 cases.

The CDC elevated its travel recommendation to “Level Four: Very High” for Canada, telling Americans they should avoid travel to its northern neighbour. The CDC currently lists about 80 destinations worldwide at Level Four. It also raised the island of Curaçao to Level Four on Monday.

The United States in November lifted restrictions at its land borders with Canada and Mexico for fully vaccinated foreign nationals, ending historic curbs on non-essential travellers in place since March 2020 to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Canada remains one of the top foreign destinations for Americans.

The Canadian government did not immediately comment Monday.

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Monday

Alberta students, parents say they feel abandoned as K-12 kids return to school

The Canadian Press

A snowy playground at Sam Livingston School in the SE. Wednesday, December 29, 2021.
A snowy playground at Sam Livingston School in the SE. Wednesday, December 29, 2021. Photo by Brendan Miller/Postmedia

Twelve-year-old Charlie Kozak wasn’t feeling safe about having to be in class today.

“It’s a chaotic mess,” Charlie said during a phone interview from his home as he prepared to return to his school in Calgary.

“I know some people in my class travelled out of country over Christmas break. Some people have done unsafe family gatherings. We’re allowed to take masks off at our desks next to them (that) aren’t six feet apart.

“It’s unsafe.”

While some parents are relieved that students in Grades K-12 are returning to classes after an extended holiday break, many say they are concerned and frustrated about unclear instructions from the Alberta government on how it plans to contain a surge in COVID-19 infections in classrooms caused by the Omicron variant.

The province had analmost 40 per cent positivity rate last week. Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has promised thousands of test kits will be delivered to students and parents over the next few days, but has left it up to schools to report and track infections.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, has said a return to in-person learning is critical and necessary for students’ mental wellness.

“We know the COVID infection has a low — but not zero — risk for children. We also know in-person learning is critically important for many kids’ educational and social development and provides a sense of stability and normalcy in these challenging times,” she said last week.

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