Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Wednesday, Jan. 26

EDITOR’S NOTE: Daily case counts have never been perfect, but at this point in the Omicron-driven wave, they’re a deeply flawed metric. Throughout the pandemic, the case counts have been based on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing done by provincial bodies like Alberta Health Services, but those testing protocols have shifted to prioritize high-priority groups and people in higher risk settings, like health-care workers. So there are likely to be thousands of cases going untested, or tested but not reported, since there is no system for cataloguing at-home rapid antigen tests. 

As a result, CBC News will de-emphasize case counts in our coverage, in favour of data and metrics that experts now say are more illuminating — such as COVID-19 hospitalizations and intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, which help us understand Omicron’s impact on the health-care system and severity of illness it causes, as well as the testing positivity rate, which if it starts to level out and come down could indicate the wave has peaked.


The latest: 

  • Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping and the chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, gave an update on COVID-19 in the province on Tuesday. 
  • Shipments of Pfizer’s at-home COVID treatment, Paxlovid, will be available to some Albertans starting Jan. 31. 
  • Copping says the treatment will be available to specific groups of people who have tested positive on a lab-based COVID-19 test. 
  • Hinshaw says those eligible include immunocompromised Albertans who are older than 18, those who have received transplants, people who have undergone chemotherapy, those who have diabetes and people who are obese, among other conditions. Vaccine status will not affect eligibility. 
  • More Pfizer doses are now available in Alberta for those who have been waiting for them for first, second or third shots, Copping says.

Recent numbers: 

  • The province released new COVID-19 figures late Monday. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the delay was due to a technical issue. 
  • Hospitalizations as of Jan. 25:
    • There were 1,377 people with COVID in Alberta hospitals on Jan. 25, the highest seen so far during the pandemic. A week earlier, on Jan. 17, there were 1,181 patients in hospital.
    • There were 111 people with COVID in intensive care, compared with the same amount on Jan. 18.
    • Of people admitted to hospital in the past week, 58.6 per cent of new non-ICU admissions and 66.1 per cent of new ICU admissions were directly related to COVID. The remainder of admissions were not related to the virus, or it was unclear. 
    • As of Jan. 25, provincial ICU capacity (including additional surge beds) was at 82 per cent. Without the additional surge spaces, provincial ICU capacity would be at 114 per cent.
    • On Jan. 20, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said that about four per cent of people in hospital with COVID are under the age of 18. She said she hasn’t seen any children who have had at least one dose of vaccine in hospital for COVID.
    • The province announced Jan. 20 it is expanding bed capacity for Omicron patients. Existing beds are being allocated for COVID-19 care, and additional beds are being opened in some locations as needed.
  • Positivity rates:
    • Alberta’s positivity rate on Jan. 25 was around 43 per cent. 
    • The province reported 13 more COVID deaths on Jan. 25. A total of 3,483 Albertans have died of COVID-19. 
    • Case counts:
      • 2,722 new cases were reported to Alberta Health out of 6,718 tests. 
      • Alberta has 51,157 active cases of COVID-19.
      • Hinshaw said the true figure is likely 10 times that number given that high caseloads have overwhelmed the ability of the system to test outside high-priority groups.

Acute care outbreaks:

  • As of Jan. 25, there are outbreaks at 26 AHS and Covenant Health acute care facilities across the province. 
  • There are three hospitals in the North zone, nine hospitals in the Edmonton zone, five hospitals in the Central zone, seven in the Calgary zone and two in the South zone affected.
  • An outbreak at an acute care geriatric psychiatric hospital in Edmonton has claimed three lives as of Jan. 26. Covenant Health confirms 120 patients and 35 staff at Villa Caritas have tested positive for the virus since Jan. 9.
  • Drumheller Health Centre, another one of the hospitals affected, has temporarily postponed inpatient surgical procedures due to the outbreak at the centre, AHS said Jan. 11. Day surgeries will continue as scheduled.

School reopenings:

  • Hinshaw said that as of Jan. 24, 18 schools in Alberta have needed to shift to online learning to address operational challenges due to COVID-19. 
  • The University of Calgary announced on Jan. 14 that it is extending online classes until Feb. 19, with a return to in-person classes after Reading Week, beginning on Feb. 28.
  • The University of Alberta is also delaying its return to in-person activities until Feb. 28.
  • Students in Alberta headed back to class on Jan. 10. Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has promised thousands of test kits and medical-grade masks will be delivered to students and parents over the next few days.
  • The winter break for K-Grade 12 students was extended to Jan. 10 as COVID-19 case numbers surged.
  • Because of the disruption to learning, January diploma exams were cancelled.
  • The Calgary Board of Education says it expects staffing shortages to persist as the fifth wave continues. On Jan. 18, more than 1,200 staff were absent, the board said. The number of absences is a 50 per cent increase over the previous three-year average for this point in time, the board said. Edmonton Public Schools reported more than 900 absences on Jan. 18. The board has hired an additional 29 temporary contract teachers to help cover off absences. 

Testing:

  • Alberta Health Services says 500 of 1,400 unvaccinated staff and physicians are making their way back into hospitals and healthcare settings after opting into the province’s temporary frequent COVID-19 testing program. The province said it made the change earlier this month to ensure it could meet the increased demand on the healthcare system brought on by a surge in Omicron variant cases. 
  • Many Albertans have been struggling in the past two weeks to get their hands on rapid tests. The tests were first available on a widespread basis before the holidays and Albertans can access them for free on a first-come, first-serve basis through participating pharmacies and AHS locations.
  • Copping said on Jan. 20 that between this week and next, nine million tests are expected to arrive in Alberta.
  • Effective Jan. 10, PCR tests are available only for select groups, which includes health-care workers, correctional facility staff and returning international travellers — in order to screen for new variants. Previously, lab-based PCR tests were also available to those who did not have access to rapid tests.

Wastewater monitoring:

  • The COVID levels in Alberta’s wastewater are starting to drop, Copping said Jan. 25. In Edmonton, COVID levels in the wastewater have been dropping for about two weeks. 
  • As the Alberta government scales back on widespread PCR testing to focus on those in high-priority settings, the province is now relying on wastewater surveillance more than ever before to track the prevalence of COVID-19 in Alberta.
  • The province’s wastewater — and the amount of infection in it — has been monitored for two years by a group of 23 researchers in a joint project with the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta.
  • The data is updated publicly three times per week.
  • It depicts the amount of SARS-CoV-2 RNA — the virus that causes COVID-19 — that’s in the province’s wastewater.
  • The virus is shed in peoples’ feces before symptoms arise, so values in the data associate strongest with cases occurring six days after the samples are collected.
  • Kenney said Jan. 20 that analysis shows early indications that Alberta has reached a peak in COVID-19 infections, with declining numbers in 15 of 19 communities under study. He said that because of the lag between infection and hospitalization, hospitalizations have not yet peaked.

Isolation times:

  • As of Jan. 3, people with at least two doses of vaccine who test positive for COVID-19 need to isolate for only five days instead of 10. 
    • If symptoms continue past five days, fully vaccinated people must continue to isolate until feeling better.
    • If they’re symptom free after five days, they must wear a mask around others at all times when they’re outside their home.
    • The change does not apply to people who aren’t fully vaccinated, who must continue to isolate for 10 days or until their symptoms end, whichever is longer.
    • Health Minister Jason Copping said the change followed evidence that suggests fully immunized people have shorter infectious periods. 
    • This change also follows the approach taken by Ontario and some other provinces, as well as the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control in the United States, Copping said.
    • Exceptions will be provided for workplaces where disruption of service for 24 hours or more would be harmful to the public, and where there is no other way to continue the service except by bringing workers back before their isolation period has ended, Copping said. 
    • In these circumstances, additional public health measures will be required. For example, Copping said returning workers would not be allowed to remove their masks when in the same room as anyone else at any time.

Health restrictions:

  • New public health restrictions in Alberta took effect on Dec. 24. They include:
    • Venues in the Restrictions Exemption Program that seat more than 1,000 people are to be at 50 per cent capacity. For venues with capacity of 500 to 1,000 occupants, 500 people is the limit. No food or drink can be consumed in these venues.
    • Restaurants, pubs and bars are to have a maximum table capacity of 10 people. Mingling between tables and interactive activities like dancing or billiards are not permitted.
  • The tightened restrictions came after Kenney loosened private social gathering restrictions on Dec. 15, scrapping the rule that only people from two households can get together indoors. He said social gatherings could consist of people from any household, but shouldn’t exceed 10 people (not counting those under age 18). He also dropped the requirement that everyone at indoor social gatherings be fully vaccinated.
  • Kenney said Jan. 20 that he won’t consider lifting current measures until there is a “sustained decline in hospital pressure.”
  • Alberta has had a restrictions exemption programa voluntary vaccine passport system, in place as of Sept. 20 after suffering through a disastrous fourth wave of COVID-19. A full list of restrictions and exemptions is available on the government’s website. 

Vaccinations:

  • As of Jan. 25, Alberta placed last of all provinces and territories in terms of the percentage of eligible people (ages five and up) who had received the COVID-19 vaccine, according to CBC’s vaccine tracker
    • 73.3 per cent of the province’s total population — or 77.8 per cent of eligible Albertans (ages five years and older) — have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to CBC’s vaccine tracker. 
    • 79.7 per cent of the province’s total population, and 84.7 per cent of those ages five and older, have received at least one dose.
    • The province said as of Jan. 24, 31.6 per cent of eligible Albertans have recieved a third, or booster, dose. Anyone aged 18 and older who received their second COVID-19 vaccine at least five months ago is urged to book a booster dose.
  • As of Jan. 20, some immunocompromised people have access to a fourth dose of the vaccine, including transplant recipients and those receiving chemotherapy.

Which regions are being hit hardest:

Here is the latest detailed regional breakdown of active cases, as reported by the province on Jan. 25:

  • Calgary zone: 24,643. 
  • Edmonton zone: 17,052.
  • Central zone: 3,732.
  • North zone: 2,577.
  • South zone: 2,634.
  • Unknown: 519.

COVID in Alberta in charts and graphs:









Here are the latest Alberta COVID-19 stories:

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