Calgary

Albertans left without fresh COVID-19 data as they prepare to gather for Thanksgiving

Albertans are being urged to use common sense to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as they gather over the Thanksgiving long weekend. The caution comes at a time when people are armed with less data than usual.

Province says it didn't publish a weekly update due to technical problems

At a Thursday news conference in Calgary, Health Minister Jason Copping told reporters he wasn't sure what caused the technical problems that meant Alberta did not publish a weekly COVID-19 update. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Albertans are being urged to use common sense to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as they gather over the Thanksgiving long weekend.

The caution comes at a time when people are armed with less data than usual.

The province did not release its weekly COVID-19 update, scheduled for Wednesday, due to what Alberta's chief medical officer of health referred to in a tweet as "data flow problems."

"We know this is frustrating for Albertans who use this information to better understand COVID-19 spread," said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, adding the information would be included in next week's update.

"We remain committed to providing accurate and factual information, and until the data flow issue is resolved, we cannot do this."

At a news conference Thursday in Calgary, Health Minister Jason Copping told reporters he wasn't sure what caused the problem, saying his department received a report that the numbers "weren't right."

"I'm hopeful we'll be able to … correct it within hours and days. But I can't make a commitment," he said.

"People deserve to have that information, yes. I agree. We're working on it as quickly as we can."

The information void is not ideal heading into a long weekend that's traditionally followed by COVID surges, according to Craig Jenne, associate professor in the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary

"We've been told by multiple sources, including the province, that personal health choices are really up to the individual and to use the evidence and the information from the community to decide what's safe for your particular family," Jenne said.

"We're asked to make personal decisions based on information but then [we're] not given the information. I think it puts a lot of people — particularly those that have an at-risk family member — in a tough situation, where they're making decisions without knowing really what the situation around them is."

Craig Jenne, associate professor in the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary, is urging people to stay home and avoid gatherings if they're sick this Thanksgiving weekend. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

The number of people hospitalized with COVID jumped significantly in last week's update. At that time, there were 980 people in hospital with the virus, including 39 in intensive care.

Without up-to-date granular data, Jenne said looking at the big picture is key.

"What we have seen over the last two to three weeks in Alberta is in many areas an uptick in viral numbers. We had seen … an uptick in hospitalizations and ICU admissions. And if we look at the wastewater monitoring — which is done through various organizations outside of the government reporting — we can see many regions in Alberta are showing an elevated number of viral counts," he said.

"The virus is back. It's in the community. And if you or your family members have risk factors, you might have to take that second look at a situation and say, 'is it safe for us to attend?'"

Stay home if you're sick

Dr. Stephanie Smith has one key message for Albertans: use common sense.

"If you're not feeling well, please stay home," said Smith, an infectious disease physician at the University of Alberta Hospital.   

"I'm a little bit worried about what we're going to see after the Thanksgiving weekend in that I think we will see more transmission, whether it be COVID or other viruses."

Dr. Stephanie Smith is an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta hospital. She says the levels of virus in Alberta wastewater are similar to those during the Delta wave. (University of Alberta)

She cautions against relying on negative rapid tests results. If you're symptomatic, a negative result doesn't necessarily mean you are COVID-free.

"The rapid tests are not perfect in terms of being able to pick up COVID. So you could still have COVID or you could have other respiratory viruses. Either way, we don't want them circulating, and we don't want to pass them on to vulnerable people."

Smith said she's not seeing an increase in severe disease among patients at her hospital.

"We still have a lot of COVID. It's maybe milder for the vast majority of people. But there are still people that can have severe disease. There are still people that can have long COVID."

According to Smith, higher-risk individuals should be particularly careful to ensure they're in well ventilated spaces and limit indoor contacts while gathering for Thanksgiving

And Jenne said that while masks aren't practical for Thanksgiving dinner, they are advisable for large indoor functions.

"We are at a much much better place than we have been for the last two Thanksgivings. Much closer to normal, but we have to do the little common-sense things," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jennifer Lee

Reporter

Jennifer Lee is a CBC News reporter based in Calgary. She worked at CBC Toronto, Saskatoon and Regina, before landing in Calgary in 2002. If you have a health or human interest story to share, let her know. Jennifer.Lee@cbc.ca

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