Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Wednesday, Feb. 9
Alberta lifts COVID-19 measures, with restrictions exemption program now over
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.
- Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Jason Copping and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, gave an announcement on Alberta's plan to lift COVID-19 public health restrictions.
- Alberta will be removing its public health restrictions in a phased manner, Kenney said Tuesday.
- This will occur in three steps:
- Stage One will take effect Tuesday night at 11:59 p.m. and will remove the restrictions exemption program, remove restrictions on food and beverage at entertainment venues, and remove capacity limits for all venues, except those that have a large capacity.
- Starting Feb. 14, there will be no masking requirements for children and youth 12 years old and younger, and there will be no masking requirements for children and youth in schools for any age.
- Stage Two 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.
- Kenney says the province is working toward a third step, 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.
- Copping said the stages are all conditions-based approach, based on hospitalization trends.
- Copping said vaccine eligibility will be expanded for those between the ages of 12 and 17 who have additional risk factors will be eligible for a booster dose Feb. 15.
- The City of Calgary said the announcement from the province to remove COVID-19 public health restrictions – specifically the Restrictions Exemption Program – in three phases will result in the end of the city's vaccine passport bylaw.
- However, the city says its face-covering bylaw will not be affected by this change, and a face covering or mask will still be required for everyone over two years of age in indoor public spaces and public vehicles.
- The province reported 11 more COVID deaths on Feb. 9. A total of 3,696 Albertans have died of COVID-19.
- 1,615 people are in hospital with COVID-19 and 135 people are in ICU.
- There are 1,684 new cases of COVID-19 as of Feb. 9 from 5,748 tests.
- Alberta has 28,896 active cases of COVID-19.
- 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, according to Hinshaw.
Acute care outbreaks:
- As of Feb. 9, there are outbreaks at 38 AHS and Covenant Health acute care facilities across the province.
- Following the province's announcement, the Calgary Catholic School District said its health measures in CCSD buildings will stay in place until further notice. CCSD will communicate any changes or updates to its COVID-19 policy directly with parents/guardians and staff.
- Hinshaw said that as of Feb. 2, 19 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.
- Wastewater numbers in Calgary show a declining number of new COVID-19 infections. Data in Edmonton is less clearly in decline but still lower than its peak at the beginning of January. 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 downwards 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.
- 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.
- According to Alberta Health, 75 per cent of the province's total population — or 86.3 per cent of those older than 12 — have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
- As of Jan. 28, Alberta placed second 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.
- 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 Feb. 9:
COVID in Alberta in charts and graphs:
Here are the latest Alberta COVID-19 stories:
- Plan to lift COVID-19 measures like being 'abandoned' by government, say immunocompromised Albertans
- OpinionAs Coutts anti-mandate blockade continues, Alberta government plans to drop vaccine passports
With files from The Canadian Press