Alberta sticks with cautious approach in controlling spread of COVID-19 omicron variant

Alberta will continue to take a cautious approach in managing the omicron variant of COVID-19 and will not be reinstating mandated quarantines at this time, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday.

'We will not stop transmission,' Dr. Deena Hinshaw says

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday omicron is not the first variant of concern to emerge in Alberta and it will not be the last. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Alberta will continue to take a cautious approach in managing the omicron variant of COVID-19 and will not be reinstating mandated quarantines at this time, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday.

Close contacts of suspected or confirmed omicron cases who were not fully immunized are strongly recommended to quarantine at home for 14 days after their last exposure, Hinshaw said at a news conference. 

"All close contacts, whether or not they are fully immunized, should also monitor for symptoms, and if they become symptomatic, they must stay home and arrange for testing," she said.

"This close contact management approach is more cautious than the approach we have been taking for the past several months. This is in order to minimize transmission risks while we learn more about the omicron variant."

Hinshaw said omicron is not the first variant of concern to emerge in Alberta and it will not be the last.

"We will not stop transmission," she said. "Our goal is to slow initial spread to give us more time to learn about the variant.

Alberta’s top doctor shares plans to curb omicron

12 months ago
Duration 2:10
Dr. Deena Hinshaw says Alberta’s plans to closely monitor close contact of confirmed omicron cases is a more cautious approach than the province has taken over the past 21 months, even without mandating quarantines.

"I would like Albertans to keep in mind that based on all our previous experiences and the early information about this variant, I am confident that vaccines and our tried and true routines will continue to help us protect one another against COVID-19."

On Tuesday, Alberta reported 240 new cases of COVID-19 bringing the total number of active cases in the province to 4,105. 

Here's how those cases are spread around the province:

  • Calgary zone: 1,671
  • Edmonton zone: 1,169
  • North zone: 504
  • Central zone: 481
  • South zone: 273
  • Unknown: 7

 There are 373 people with COVID-19 in hospital, 76 of those cases in intensive care.

Five new deaths were reported Tuesday, bringing the province's total to 3,268.

The number of identified cases of the new omicron variant in the province remains at 11 — 10 of which were identified in returning travellers and one in a household contact of a person who recently returned home from travelling. 

Of the 11 omicron variant cases in Alberta, seven of them were in fully vaccinated people, two who were partially vaccinated and two who were unvaccinated.

The rising number shows Alberta will be dealing with the variant on a much larger scale in the near future, said Dr. Craig Jenne, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Calgary.

"We do know that once the virus is here, really the ability to keep it contained becomes much, much strained," Jenne said.

While it may turn out the variant doesn't pose a serious threat, all current evidence shows it to be highly contagious, he said.

"We don't know yet how this will affect our at-risk population and if this is able to evade vaccines and spread quickly."

Our best hope to slow omicron's arrival is to tighten screening at the borders for all travellers and stiffen rules around self isolation, Jenne said.

Hinshaw too acknowledged the virus appears to be more transmissible than previous variants, but suggests it may be less virulent. 

"So far, the early indications, and I will stress early, are that it does appear to be spreading more quickly than delta in those places where it has been first identified," she said. 

"There is starting to be a slight uptick in hospitalizations, but early reports are that it does seem to be mild, especially in cases that have been vaccinated." 

Hinshaw said AHS will watch closely the emerging data internationally and locally before deciding if more rules need to be introduced before the December break. 

"Looking both at our own data as well as emerging evidence on omicron will help us to inform any potential decisions about the holidays, which have not yet been made," she said.

About 77.2 per cent of the province's total population has now had at least one dose, while 71.8 per cent is considered fully vaccinated against the virus.

With files from Jennifer Lee


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