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Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Wednesday, Feb. 23

Hospitalizations continue to decline as Premier Jason Kenney prepares to announce a decision to enter Phase 2 of restriction easing.

Rate of new cases rose slightly after weekend, but overall active cases declined

In this Sept. 14, 2021, file photo, a syringe is prepared with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at the Reading Area Community College in Reading, Pa. (Matt Rourke/The Associated Press)

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.


Recent numbers:

  • There were 791 new cases on Feb. 21, up from 497 new cases on Feb. 20.
  • There are 1,373 Albertans in hospital with COVID, and 90 in intensive care. 
  • Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Monday that the government will announce its final decision about proceeding to Phase 2 of its plan to lift almost all restrictions on March 1. This decision will be announced Feb. 26 
  • This phase would remove indoor masking, remaining school requirements, youth screening for entertainment and sports, removal of capacity limits on all large venues and entertainment venues, limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, and the lifting of mandatory work from home. This stage is contingent on hospitalizations trending downward.
  • Kenney wrote Monday that data continues to show a steep drop in the COVID-19 Omicron wave, and pressure on hospitals is declining. 
  • The province reported 53 more COVID deaths from Feb. 18-22. A total of 3,883 Albertans have died of the disease. 
  • The positivity rate over the past seven days for lab confirmed cases is 18.76 per cent as of Feb 19
  • Alberta had 11,189 active cases of COVID-19 as of Feb. 22. 

The latest on restrictions: 

  • Stage 1 of Alberta's staged loosening of public health restrictions advanced another notch on Feb. 14:   
         
    • As of Feb. 14, there are no masking requirements for children and youth 12 years old and younger and no masking requirements for children and youth in schools for any age.
    •    
    • Stage 1 took effect Feb. 16 and removed the restrictions exemption program, removed restrictions on food and beverage at entertainment venues, and removed capacity limits for all venues, except those that have a large capacity. 
    •    
    • Stage 2 will take effect March 1 at 12 a.m., and will remove indoor masking, remaining school requirements, youth screening for entertainment and sports, removal of capacity limits on all large venues and entertainment venues, limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings lifted and mandatory work from home lifted. This stage is contingent on hospitalizations trending downward.
    •    
    • Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the province is working toward a third stage, which does not have a date, where people would no longer be required to isolate if they have COVID-19, and COVID operational and outbreak protocols will be lifted in continuing care facilities. 
    •    
    • Health Minister Jason Copping said the stages are all conditions-based approach, based on hospitalization trends. 
    •    
  • Alberta is now in a period of transition as it begins to shift from a pandemic response to COVID-19 to an endemic one, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday.
  • Hinshaw pointed to a joint statement issued by chief medical officers of health across Canada Monday outlining the need to make the transition.
  • "After nearly two years of requirements to modify the way we have lived, worked and socialized to help reduce transmission of the virus and protect each other, it's going to take time and effort to adjust away from mandates and toward personal risk assessments and actions," Hinshaw said.
  • Calgary city council has voted on Feb. 15 to repeal the local mask bylaw whenever the Alberta government lifts its provincewide mask mandate.

Acute care outbreaks:

  • As of Feb. 23, there are outbreaks at 24 AHS and Covenant Health acute care facilities across the province. 

School reopenings:

  • Following the province's announcement, the Calgary Catholic School District said its health measures in CCSD buildings will stay in place until further notice. The school board will communicate any changes or updates to its COVID-19 policy directly with parents/guardians and staff. 
  • 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.

Wastewater monitoring:

  • Health Minister Jason Copping said on Feb. 15 that the province reached its peak of Omicron cases weeks ago based on wastewater and PCR testing data.
  • Wastewater numbers in Calgary show a declining number of new COVID-19 infections. Data for Edmonton also shows a decline. The data from a dashboard created by the University of Calgary Centre for Informatics show the average amount of COVID-19 detected in wastewater has trended downward since a peak on Jan. 11 in Calgary.
  • 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.

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.
    •    
  • Hinshaw announced on Feb. 3 that the province will shorten the recommended quarantine period for unvaccinated, asymptomatic household contacts of confirmed cases. The quarantine will decrease to 10 days from 14.

Vaccinations:

  • According to Alberta Health, 75.7 per cent of the province's total population — or 86.5 per cent of those older than 12 — have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. 
  • Alberta is second last of all provinces and territories in terms of the percentage of eligible people (ages five and up) who have received the COVID-19 vaccine, according to CBC's vaccine tracker

Which regions are being hit hardest:

Here is the latest detailed regional breakdown of active cases, as reported by the province on Feb. 15:

COVID in Alberta in charts and graphs:











Here are the latest Alberta COVID-19 stories:

With files from The Canadian Press

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