With fall flu season looming, Alberta will scale back asymptomatic COVID-19 testing
Over the course of the pandemic, Alberta has reported a total of 16,274 cases
With fall influenza season looming, Alberta will prepare for an expected surge in demand for laboratory tests by scaling back asymptomatic testing — the practice of conducting COVID-19 tests on people without symptoms.
The change in testing priorities was announced Thursday by Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health.
"From a public health perspective, we are facing a significant challenge over the coming months," Hinshaw said. "COVID-19 is still here and is not going anywhere. At the same time, influenza season will soon begin.
"In addition to potentially contracting COVID-19, Albertans will have a greater chance of catching a cold or flu, which have very similar symptoms to COVID-19. More people with symptoms means that we will see more people needing to be tested. Our labs need to support cases of both COVID-19 and influenza."
Over the past few months, Alberta conducted more than 233,000 tests on people who had no symptoms and no known connection of any outbreaks, Hinshaw said, and the "vast, vast" majority of those were negative.
That huge number of samples uncovered an average of seven positive results for every 10,000 tests, she said.
'We must prioritize our testing'
To allow the province to prepare for influenza season, asymptomatic testing will therefore no longer be recommended for general population.
Voluntary asymptomatic testing will continue to be offered to priority groups most at risk of spreading COVID-19 to vulnerable or at-risk populations including health care workers, Albertans experiencing homelessness, school teachers and staff, residents and staff in congregate settings and travellers who require testing prior to departure.
As the weather grows colder, people will spend more time indoors where illnesses can more easily spread, Hinshaw said.
"We and every other province in Canada must prepare for a surge in demand in tests this winter. We must prioritize our testing, especially as we prepare for the flu system to ensure that testing is scheduled and that results are returned as quickly as possible."
WATCH | Looking back at six months of COVID-19 in Alberta
Alberta has already ordered extra flu vaccine, so there will be enough available, Hinshaw said.
"We also have worked with the federal government to access a high-dose influenza vaccine that will be available for those in continuing care."
The province was the first in Canada to offer voluntary asymptomatic testing, she said.
"As you may recall, when we expanded this testing, I was clear that this broad eligibility was to enable population surveillance to understand more about COVID-19 trends in the general population, not for individual case finding."
Public health officials now have a much better understanding of how COVID-19 is and isn't spread, she said.
Labs processed a large volume of tests over the summer, which helped "stress-test" the system and identify places where improvements were needed, Hinshaw said.
People with symptoms, those in close contact with confirmed cases and anyone who linked to an outbreak will still be tested.
"These are and always will be our top priorities and are the highest value clinical tests," Hinshaw said.
Priority groups will include residents and staff at nursing homes, health-care workers, school teachers and staff, and people who are homeless. Asymptomatic tests that are already booked will still be done. People who travel internationally and require tests will still get them.
The latest update shows that Alberta confirmed 146 new cases of the illness on Thursday.
Over the past eight days, from Sept. 9 to Sept. 16, the province has reported a total of 1,083 new cases.
On Thursday, there were 1,483 active cases in Alberta. No additional deaths were reported.
Across Alberta, 41 people were being treated in hospitals for the illness, including eight in ICU beds.
Since the beginning of the pandemic in early March, Alberta has reported 16,274 cases of COVID-19.
Of that total, 1,483 were listed as active on Thursday, and 14,537 were listed as recovered.
So far, 254 people have died from the illness.
After Thursday's update, here are the numbers over the past eight days.
- 106,345. The total number of tests completed in Alberta over the most recent eight-day period for which numbers are available.
- 1,083. The total number of new cases confirmed in the province in that same period.
- One. The percentage of tests that came back positive.
Here's a daily breakdown of those numbers:
- Wednesday, Sept. 16 — 13,003 tests, 146 new cases.
- Tuesday, Sept. 15 — 12,540 tests, 171 new cases.
- Monday, Sept. 14 — 12,985 tests, 124 new cases.
- Sunday, Sept. 13 — 14,451 tests, 140 new cases.
- Saturday, Sept. 12 — 18,919 tests, 173 new cases.
- Friday, Sept. 11 — 12,757 tests, 105 new cases.
- Thursday, Sept. 10 — 11,979 tests, 111 new cases.
- Wednesday, Sept. 9 — 9,711 tests, 113 new cases.