Hinshaw encourages Albertans to wear masks indoors when appropriate as COVID-19 spreads

Alberta’s top doctor is encouraging the public to wear masks indoors, as data shows there continues to be increased transmission of COVID-19 in the province.

1,053 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 48 in ICU

Health Minister Jason Copping and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, updated Albertans on the province's COVID-19 situation Wednesday. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta, Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Alberta's top doctor is encouraging the public to wear masks indoors when appropriate, as data shows there continues to be increased transmission of COVID-19 in the province.

The Alberta government got rid of its mask mandate, among other measures, last month when it moved into Step 2 of lifting public health restrictions. They are still required in some settings, such as public transit and facilities operated by Alberta Health Services.

On Wednesday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, told reporters that she continues to wear masks when she is inside public places — sometimes a medical-grade mask, depending on where she is or who she will be around.

"I would encourage people to consider their context — their own risk factors, the risk factors of those around them — and the fact that transmission is rising. To be part of protecting our communities right now, masking is a very prudent step that we can all take," Hinshaw said during Wednesday's COVID-19 news conference.

From April 5 to April 11, 37 COVID-19 deaths were reported to Alberta Health.

A total of 4,141 Albertans have now died from the illness since the start of the pandemic.

There are 1,053 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, including 48 patients in intensive care, as of April 11. Those numbers are up from one week ago, when there were 990 people in hospital including 44 in ICU.

Health Minister Jason Copping said Alberta may see further hospitalizations in the next few weeks, but that the health-care system is ready for that.

"We do not expect the kind of impact we saw in the initial Omicron wave in December and in January," Copping said.

"We have high levels of vaccination and recent exposure to Omicron, as well as more access to new therapeutics."

The seven-day PCR test-positivity rate is 26.62 per cent, up slightly from 26.3 per cent last week.

Public health officials reported 6,181 new COVID-19 cases over the past week. The case count only includes positive PCR test results however, so more virus is believed to be circulating in the community.

Wastewater surveillance data shows virus levels trending up in Calgary and Edmonton and in many, but not all, of the smaller centres being monitored, Copping said.

Alberta to pause Sotrovimab use: Hinshaw

Alberta will pause the use of Sotrovimab, a COVID-19 treatment, because there is uncertainty about its effectiveness against the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron — the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the province, Hinshaw said.

The BA.2 subvariant currently accounts for over 80 per cent of all new COVID-19 cases, so the province has to adapt its treatment approach, she said.

"If you have taken Sotrovimab, please be assured that it is a safe medication and may provide some benefit to those who have received it," Hinshaw said. "There is no concern for these individuals."

Sotrovimab, approved by Health Canada last July, is a monoclonal antibody that attaches to the novel coronavirus' spike protein and prevents it from entering and infecting healthy cells, according to Health Canada's website.

In Alberta, it is given to people with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms, who are not in hospital but are at high risk of being hospitalized or dying due to the illness, according to the AHS website.

In the meantime, Alberta will use Paxlovid and Remdesivir for early out-patient treatment of COVID-19, Hinshaw said.

Easter gatherings

As Albertans prepare for family gatherings this weekend, Hinshaw wants people to take appropriate precautions.

"Indoor social gatherings create a higher risk for transmission if there's someone infectious who is present," she said. "We also know that people gain benefit from spending time with people they care about."

Hinshaw suggested Albertans consider with whom they will be gathering and what precautions they can take to keep people safe while celebrating, such as holding gatherings outdoors (weather permitting) and staying home when sick.