COVID-19 hospitalizations continue monthlong rise in Alberta as universities prepare for fall classes

COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to trend upward from an intra-wave mid-July dip, according to the weekly report from Alberta Health.

For the week ending Aug. 15, 70 more people were in hospital compared to the week before, for a total of 818. Intensive care patients stayed even at 28.

Alberta hospitals haven’t been below 500 people with COVID since January 3, provincial data shows.

The province announced 27 more COVID-19 deaths in the past week, bringing the pandemic total to 4,721.

The seven-day average positivity rate for PCR tests restricted to people in clinical high-risk circumstances went down slightly, to 21.93 per cent.

Read more: Number of people in Alberta hospitals with COVID-19 increases

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Return to classes

With universities around Alberta readying for a return to in-person classes, some are raising concerns their institutions aren’t bringing back mask or vaccination requirements to help prevent the spread of airborne viruses like COVID-19.

In spring 2022, post-secondary institutions Alberta-wide dropped their mask mandates following the province’s same move.

“COVID absolutely knocked me down for 2 weeks, and I am terrified about long-term effects as I experience heart arrhythmia,” Chelsea Vowel posted on Twitter. “I am not okay with getting it multiple times in my classroom because my employer (the University of Alberta) doesn’t have a real plan for our safety.”

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“If faculty are just supposed to contract COVID every semester we are in the classroom that doesn’t seem like a very viable long term plan,” Ted McCoy, a University of Calgary associate professor tweeted.

The University of Calgary, University of Alberta and University of Lethbridge are all recommending masks be worn indoors, but none of those institutions will require masks for the first day of fall semester. However, masking will be required where those schools have clinical masking requirements under AHS.

“The University of Alberta is closely following public health guidance for Alberta. As a community, we continue to work together to minimize risks,” a University of Alberta statement said on Wednesday. “Personal health measures on our campuses will continue to be important this fall to avoid major disruptions to university programs and operations.”

Read more: Alberta NDP requests auditor general to investigate bonuses to pandemic management

Dr. Verna Yiu, former AHS CEO and current U of A interim provost, stressed “personal health measures” on Aug. 4, including staying home when sick and practicing good hygiene like handwashing and mask wearing.

“Current physical measures at campus service points — such as plexiglass barriers, hand sanitizer and mask distribution — are anticipated to be in place until at least the end of the fall 2022 semester,” she wrote.

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“UCalgary wholeheartedly embraces the value of vaccination in keeping staff, students, faculty and our broader community healthy. Everyone is urged to keep up with booster vaccinations as they become available. UCalgary also fully supports anyone wishing to wear a mask as a personal health choice,” a U of C statement reads. “However, the university is no longer mandating vaccination or mask use on campus.”

Hand sanitizer remains widely available at the U of C, and all buildings have ventilation and air-circulation that meets or exceeds American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standards for infectious aerosol recommendations, including the use of MERV-13 filters.

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Lethbridge’s university was less explicit in its pandemic preparations for the fall.

“As we prepare to return to our campuses for the fall 2022 semester, we must remain mindful that COVID-19 continues impacting communities around the world,” an online update from the University of Lethbridge said. “And with the emergence of new sub-variants, it is prudent that members of our university community, as well as the university itself, continue to operate responsibly to promote the safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors as we undertake our important work.”

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“We are a very mask-friendly campus,” U of L associate professor Dr. Trushar Patel told Global News.

Mount Royal University is also recommending keeping vaccinations up to date, masking, and self-monitoring of health. They are offering to help navigate absences due to illness, and are giving away surgical-grade masks and test kits at the Cougars Campus Store.

Read more: Alberta kids under 5 now eligible for COVID-19 vaccines: ‘We’ve been waiting’

MacEwan University’s last COVID-19 online update noted “the vast majority of our campus community has met the requirements of our vaccine mandate.

“As such, there will no longer be a requirement for students, employees or visitors to campus to provide proof of vaccination status or rapid test results,” president and vice-chancellor Dr. Annette Trimbee wrote on March 9.

SAIT said it has also improved air quality, installing the highest MERV-rated filters each HVAC system can accommodate, programmed air systems to flush air from buildings between classes, and introduce as much outside air as possible.

SAIT students are encouraged to wear masks indoors, with masks and rapid antigen test kits available on campus.

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NAIT, too encourages indoor masking and asked students to stay home when sick, as the province lifted the self-isolation requirement in the summer.

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All of the post-secondary institutions Global News reached out to said they would continue to monitor the pandemic situation in the province throughout the school year.

–with files from Eloise Therien, Global News

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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