Alberta invests $10M in serology testing to help track spread of COVID-19

Alberta is investing $10 million into targeted serology testing to help track the spread of COVID-19 across the province.

Province reports 45 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, no new deaths

Dr. Deena Hinshaw updated Albertans with the latest on COVID-19 on Tuesday. (Art Raham/CBC)

Alberta is investing $10 million into targeted serology testing to help track the spread of COVID-19 across the province.

Serology testing is used to detect the presence of antibodies in a person's blood, indicating that a person has been exposed to the COVID-19 virus in the past, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Tuesday. 

"Serology testing is a big step forward, but we also need to be clear about what it doesn't do," Shandro said. "It does not, and I repeat not, replace swab testing.

"It doesn't tell us if you're currently sick or if you're contagious, and it doesn't tell us if you're immune to COVID-19 or to a degree or for how long."

Alberta Health is investing in four voluntary public health studies, he said.

Each will test specific groups of Albertans for the virus. Alberta Health Services will also make serology testing available for specific clinical purposes where testing can inform treatment decisions.

"This virus is new and we just don't know how it behaves yet," Shandro said. "We can make assumptions based on other viruses, and they may turn out to be right, but we can't base our relaunch on assumptions.

"We need to know how much immunity people have after they've been infected, if they can be infected again."

The tests will help epidemiologists understand what proportion of a population may have been exposed to COVID-19 within the past several months and then use that information to understand what proportion may not have been captured by swab testing, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, told Tuesday's news conference.

"Serology is not a useful individual clinical test except in some very rare select circumstances," Hinshaw said. 

"I know that there are many individuals who are very curious about their own personal results.

"However, if we recruited only individuals who thought they might have had COVID we would get a non-representative sample of the population which wouldn't be helpful for us to determine at an overall population level who may have been exposed."

So far provincial labs have completed 402,837 swab tests for COVID-19.

Alberta is the first province in Canada to make targeted serology testing available, Shandro said.

Latest numbers

Alberta recorded 45 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday with no new deaths.

The number of active cases in the province now stands at 532. The number of deaths remains at 153. 

Thirty-seven people are in hospital, six of them in intensive care.

Another hospital has been hit by an outbreak, this time Edmonton's Misericordia Community Hospital.

"This outbreak is confined to a single unit and so far six patients and two staff have tested positive," Hinshaw said.

"Outbreak protocols have already been implemented, and all staff and patients who may have been exposed are being tested."

'We will continue to see some new cases'

Hinshaw also addressed the five restaurants in Edmonton that voluntarily closed for a short time when a staff member or customer reported testing positive for the disease.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw on Edmonton restaurant closures

2 years ago
Duration 2:01
Several Edmonton restaurants recently closed after employees or customers at these locations tested positive for COVID-19. On Tuesday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said the province didn't force these closures and that COVID-19 outbreaks haven't been found in these restaurants.

"As we move forward, we will continue to see some new cases in all sectors, including the food-service industry," she said. 

While it's important to take every case seriously, one positive case does not automatically require a business to close for public health reasons, Hinshaw said.

"It also does not mean that everyone who visited the same establishment is automatically at risk. Determining who is at risk is something that our contact tracing teams closely assess based on when the individual became symptomatic."

Hinshaw said she hasn't yet heard of a similar situation in Calgary.

The city of Edmonton proper has 223 active cases, outpacing Calgary, which has 202. 

Here is how active cases across the province break down by zone:

  • Edmonton zone: 236 
  • Calgary zone: 230
  • North zone: 36
  • South zone: 22
  • Central zone: 3
  • Unknown: 5

Edmonton's northeast region is now under a watch designation as it has more than 10 active cases and has surpassed 50 active cases per 100,000 people.

The watch went into effect Monday. The region has 45 active cases and an active case rate of 50.6.

The designation means the province is monitoring the risk and discussing with local government the possible need for additional health measures.


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