COVID-19 hospitalizations expected to drop 'fast,' says Alberta's health minister
22 more COVID-19 deaths reported in the province
The number of new admissions of COVID-positive patients to hospitals in the province peaked more than two weeks ago and is now rapidly declining, Alberta's health minister said Thursday.
"They've dropped every day since. Provincially, they're down by nearly a quarter," Jason Copping said at a news conference along with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
"That means that the number of patients in hospital will drop," Copping said. "It will drop soon — and fast — if we look at the experience of other jurisdictions that are ahead of us on the Omicron curve."
There were 1,586 people in hospital with the disease on Thursday, down slightly from Wednesday's update when 1,615 people were in hospital. The number of patients in intensive care was 126, down from 135.
Alberta reported 22 more deaths on Thursday, one day after the province began lifting its COVID-19 restrictions.
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Earlier Thursday, Alberta Health Services said in a post to Twitter that the pandemic response unit at the Kaye Edmonton Clinic will be deactivated on Sunday. The unit, which opened Jan. 27, allowed for an expansion of bed capacity in the Edmonton zone.
Staff have started the transfer process for patients, AHS said. Most will be discharged from hospital or moved to other facilities.
"We have avoided overwhelming our health-care system," Copping said. "We did prepare for the worst — a wave of cases that could drive hospital admissions critically beyond our normal capacity.
"It was a real risk. And we supported AHS in preparing for this risk. But it did not happen."
QR code scanning app discontinued
Copping announced the province's QR code scanning app will no longer be available to download.
"It's time to move forward," Copping said. "The evidence supports it and it supports the decisions we've made throughout the Omicron wave. Over the past few months, we've kept businesses and communities open and we've done this safely."
However, the app will still be functional for organizations that already have it installed, he said. As well, individuals will continue to be able to access the QR code for situations where they need proof of vaccination.
The number of active cases in the province is also plummeting, a trend that is supported by wastewater monitoring and PCR testing data, Copping said.
"We currently just have over 25,000 active cases, down 25 per cent in the past week, and down by almost two-thirds from the peak of 71,600 on Jan. 16," he said.
The actual number of active cases is likely much higher because PCR testing offered by the province is now restricted to high-priority groups and people in higher-risk settings, like health-care workers.
More rapid tests
Copping also announced another 2.5 million rapid tests have arrived in Alberta this week and will be shipped to pharmacies around the province.
As well, Albertans were told Thursday that long-term care home staff can once again work at more than one facility, effective Feb. 16.
On Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney announced a phased plan to eliminate all COVID-19 restrictions. The vaccine passport system, known as the Restrictions Exemption Program, was ended by Wednesday morning.
Some capacity limits for businesses, venues and facilities were also eased. Restrictions on sale of food and beverages at entertainment venues were removed.
Starting Monday, masks will no longer be mandatory for children under 12 in any setting, and for students of any age attending school. School boards have been told they don't have the power to override the directive.
If the pressure on hospitals continues to wane, further restrictions will be lifted on March 1, including the provincewide mask mandate, gathering restrictions, the work-from-home mandate and remaining capacity limits.
Kenney said the province will eventually enter a third stage, 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.
Alberta has recorded 3,718 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic started.