Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Friday, Dec. 31

Alberta is to reduce its COVID-19 isolation period from 10 days to five for fully vaccinated, symptom-free people, the government announced a day after delaying the reopening of schools for at least a week due to an exponential increase in cases.

Isolation duration reduced to 5 days on Jan. 3 for those with two doses of vaccine, no symptoms, Copping says

Signs indicate a drive-thru COVID testing site in northeast Calgary on Thursday. Alberta reported a record high of daily new cases for the second day in a row on Thursday, with an estimated 4,000 confirmed through government PCR testing, and those cases are expected to be just the tip of the iceberg.  (James Young/CBC)

The latest on isolation, school reopenings, restrictions and more:

  • Alberta is reducing its COVID-19 isolation period from 10 days to five for people who have received at least two doses of vaccine and are symptom-free by that time effective Jan. 3, Health Minister Jason Copping announced in a provincial update with Dr. Deena Hinshaw on Friday.   
    • 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.
    • 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 health 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.
  • No new restrictions were announced Friday, but Hinshaw and Copping urged everyone to cut their close contacts in half. Keep New Year's Eve gatherings to under 10 or better yet, postpone them altogether, Hinshaw said, adding that people should assume that wherever they go and whatever they do, someone is infected with the highly contagious Omicron variant even if they're not showing symptoms.
  • A day earlier, the province announced it was delaying the reopening of schools provincewide. Schools' winter break for K-Grade 12 students will be extended to Jan. 10 provincewide, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced Thursday:   
    • Due to the disruption to learning, January diploma exams will also be cancelled.
    • The delay will also be accompanied by the distribution of 8.6 million at-home rapid tests and medical grade masks. 
    • Daycares will remain open. 
  • The Omicron variant had already prompted several post-secondary institutions across the province to return to online learning for the first few weeks of the winter term.

WATCH: How to perform the rapid antigen test:

Omicron cases ‘just the tip of the iceberg,’ Dr. Hinshaw says

6 months ago
Duration 1:17
Dr. Hinshaw says Albertans should assume that someone infected with the Omicron variant is in every public place. She said in the fourth wave, the province’s tests caught about one out of every six cases, but testing can’t maintain that ratio any longer.

  • Kenney said Tuesday that Alberta doesn't plan to follow Quebec's lead in allowing some health-care workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 or come in close contact with a confirmed case to remain on the job to protect hospital capacity. However, he didn't entirely rule it out.   
    • Earlier in the month, in anticipation of anticipated demand from soaring Omicron variant cases, the province directed Alberta Health Services to allow any unimmunized physicians and staff who want to return to work to do so, with participation in a temporary testing program
  • Another one million rapid tests bought by Alberta have arrived and another three million will arrive next week, Kenney said Tuesday. The province bought its own 10 million rapid tests, he said.
  • There are active outbreaks at seven acute care sites across the province, AHS reported Thursday. 
  • Correctional Service Canada said Thursday that 13 inmates and 41 employees at Drumheller Institution have tested positive for COVID-19. 

WATCH | What is the Omicron variant? Infectious disease expert Craig Jenne simplifies what the variant is:

How to use a take home COVID-19 test kit

7 months ago
Duration 1:51
With the province releasing home rapid COVID-19 test kits, Edmonton pharmacist Shivali Sharma shows CBC’s Pippa Reed how to use one properly.
  • 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.
    • They must stop serving liquor at 11 p.m. and close at 12:30 a.m.
    • 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
    • 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. 

The latest COVID-19 numbers: 

  • No new numbers were announced during a live update Friday with Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, and Health Minister Jason Copping.
  • The province will resume regular reporting, including a day-by-day breakdown of cases, on Jan. 4.
  • Hinshaw said there were about 21,000 active COVID-19 cases confirmed by PCR testing in the province as of Friday, but stressed that the actual case count was no doubt much higher since, as of Dec. 23, most Albertans are being urged to skip PCR tests and instead use at-home rapid antigen testing or assume they have COVID if they're symptomatic. 
  • Hinshaw said Friday that although it seems that a smaller percentage of Omicron cases are requiring acute care, it can be expected that a greater number of people infected will soon translate into a greater number of people in hospital. 
  • Alberta reported a record high of daily new cases for the second day in a row on Thursday, with an estimated 4,000:   
    • This comes one day after the province hit its previous record high with 2,775 new cases, driven by a surged tied to the more highly infectious Omicron variant.
    • The positivity rate in Alberta is estimated to be 30 per cent. 
    • There are 371 people in hospital with 48 in ICU.

  • Daily updates to the government's pandemic tracking dashboard have slowed over the holidays (so the charts in this story will have gaps in data throughout the week). 
  • Experts and the government have warned that many more cases of COVID-19 will be going unreported since the province changed its testing protocol on Dec. 23 to discourage most people from seeking the free PCR tests through Alberta Health Services to confirm infection:   
    • As of that day, the government directed Albertans to avoid getting a PCR test if possible to preserve limited lab capacity for tracking outbreaks in high-risk settings such as continuing care, in response to the anticipated surge of cases tied to the more highly infectious Omicron variant.
    • Instead, it now recommends home rapid antigen testing kits for people with symptoms, except for some priority groups. 
    • People who get a positive rapid test kit result are now told to consider it to be a COVID-19 confirmation; people who are feeling symptomatic are also told the same. They're being told to isolate and notify their close contacts. 
    • Many doctors are urging people using rapid antigen testing kits to swab their throats as well as their noses to improve their chances of detecting the virus early.

Watch | Alberta's top doctor says Omicron cases spreading too fast to ID with testing:

What is the Omicron variant?

7 months ago
Duration 5:00
Infectious disease expert Craig Jenne simplifies what the variant is, and what it means for the latest round in our battle against COVID.

The latest on vaccines:

  • On Friday, Hinshaw urged Albertans to book their third dose of vaccine, regardless of which mRNA is available to them, on Friday after reports that some people are waiting for Pfizer to be available.
  • As of Dec. 29, 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.   
    • 72.3 per cent of the province's total population — or 76.8 per cent of eligible Albertans (ages five years and older) — have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
    • 78.7 per cent of the province's total population, and 83.5 per cent of those ages five and older, have received at least one dose.

  • Starting Dec. 21, the Alberta government announced that anyone aged 18 and older who received their second COVID-19 vaccine at least five months ago could now book a third dose.

See which regions are being hit hardest:

Here is the latest detailed regional breakdown of active cases, as reported by the province on Dec. 29:

  • Calgary zone: 9,293.
  • Edmonton zone: 6,216.
  • Central zone: 687.
  • North zone: 597.
  • South zone: 471.
  • Unknown: 132.

Here are the latest Alberta COVID-19 stories:

The latest updates on COVID-19 in Alberta in charts and graphs:


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