Calgary

Albertans urged to take precautions during Easter weekend as COVID-19 transmission rises

As Alberta's COVID-19 numbers rise experts warn social gatherings over Easter could fire up an already smouldering wave in the province.

1,053 Albertans were in hospital Monday with COVID, up from 990 a week earlier

A nurse wearing blue gloves handles a COVID-19 test swab.
Alberta's COVID-19 positivity rates remain high, with a seven-day average of 26.6 per cent. Wastewater levels are rising in a number of communities, including Calgary and Edmonton. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Albertans are being urged to approach Easter gatherings with caution as the province faces yet another COVID-19 resurgence.

Hospitalizations continue to rise, positivity rates remain high and levels of the virus detected in wastewater are increasing in many communities, including Calgary and Edmonton.

"Our docs are busier than ever," said Melina Dharma-Wardene, executive director of the South Calgary Primary Care Network.

She keeps close tabs on COVID-19 cases at the PCN's clinics.

"We are seeing a dramatic rise with respect to the number of calls," she said.

"Not everybody needs to be seen by a doctor. So we are seeing folks and they're being taken care of by nurse practitioners or just receiving calls into Health Link. But [there is] a dramatic rise in the number of people who are saying they've tested positive for COVID either at home with rapid test kits or elsewhere within the last 10 days. It's a spike."

Melina Dharma-Wardene, executive director of the South Calgary Primary Care Network, says clinics in her PCN have seen a spike in COVID cases over the past 10 days. (MF Production Inc.)

According to Dharma-Wardene, most of those patients are able to recover at home.

But with Easter coming, she is worried gatherings could drive those numbers even higher. She is also concerned vulnerable, high-risk Albertans could be affected.

"If this continues to snowball or mushroom, we may be in trouble."

 This is not the first time Alberta has approached a holiday as transmission rates rise.

"We've seen this a number of times in the past — whether it be Thanksgiving or Christmas — that often there will be a wave that's associated with a long weekend or social gathering," said Craig Jenne, associate professor of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary.

Jenne, who calls the current COVID trends in Alberta "concerning," said there are simple steps and lessons learned from previous waves that continue to apply now.

"The virus itself is still behaving very much as it has before, although a little more infectious. But that means that the same defences work. So good air circulation, ensuring that if you're having a gathering, nobody's infected. There is a little loss of accuracy with the rapid tests. But if you test positive, it means you have it and you should self-isolate," he said.

Craig Jenne is an associate professor in the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Other steps Albertans can take, according to Jenne, include keeping indoor gatherings small and sticking to your usual cohort or social circle.

If you are in a larger gathering, he recommends wearing masks. And, he said, it's important to ensure good airflow and ventilation indoors.

"But also try and ensure that people are vaccinated, and right now — critically — have received that booster … if they've had enough weeks since their vaccination was completed," he said.

Meanwhile, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said it's important that people recognize transmission is rising as they plan their Easter celebrations.

"[We know] that indoor gatherings create a higher risk for transmission if there's someone infectious who's present," she said.

"We also know that people gain benefit from spending time with people they care about. And it's important to be able to celebrate important holidays with our family and friends."

Hinshaw said it's critical anyone feeling sick stays home, and she urged Albertans to consider hosting parts of their gatherings outdoors.

"All of the things that we know can reduce risk, just consider how those can be incorporated into those gatherings as we … want to keep the people that we care about safe and our community safe."

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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