Coronavirus variant strains now dominant as Alberta's third wave continues to grow
Alberta reports record 717 new COVID-19 cases linked to virus variants
Highly contagious variants of the coronavirus are now the dominant strains pushing Alberta's third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, says the province's top public health doctor.
Alberta reported 717 new cases of COVID-19 linked to highly contagious variants of the coronavirus on Thursday. People infected with those variants now make up 44.8 per cent of all active cases in the province.
"We have now reached the point where variants of concern are the dominant strains of new COVID-19 cases in our province," Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, said at a news conference.
Alberta reported a total of 1,429 new cases on Thursday, the highest total seen this year.
The province has 12,187 active cases, and of that total 5,457 are linked to variants of concerns.
Screening in Alberta has now confirmed a total to date of 8,229 cases linked to variant B117, first detected in the United Kingdom. Another 26 cases have been linked to variant B1351, first detected in South Africa, and 23 cases have been linked to variant P1, which is now ravaging Brazil.
"By far, the most common is the UK variant is B117, which makes up 99 per cent of all of our variant cases confirmed to date," Hinshaw said. "We have now reached the point that if you test positive, you should assume you have the UK variant."
Close contacts to be tested twice
Public health officials are now focusing efforts of contact-tracing teams to screening for the P1 and B1351 variants, she said, and will be treating cases and contacts of B117 and the original strain the same from now on.
As of Thursday, the province will begin offering testing twice to close contacts of all confirmed cases, Hinshaw said, regardless of what strain they may have been exposed to.
"If you are a close contact, you will be offered testing as soon as you are notified, and if you test negative, offered testing again 10 days after your last exposure. By testing all close contacts twice, we have a better chance of quickly identifying new cases and stopping their spread."
Hinshaw said second tests are identifying a small percentage of cases that wouldn't otherwise have been picked up.
Watch | Dr. Hinshaw discusses surge in variant cases
"The reason it's important is that somebody in their 14-day quarantine period, if they test negative on that first test they could still be incubating the virus and they could still get sick – that day-nine, day-10 point.
"And if they do, and if they don't have any symptoms, then they would actually be infectious as they leave that quarantine period.
"So that second test is really important to be able to make sure that that individual is not potentially passing on that virus to others. So that double test helps us with additional layer of security around all close contacts of all of our cases from today going forward."
New cases urged to isolate
Effective immediately, the province will strongly encourage all new COVID-19 cases to isolate away from other household members, in hotels or other separate accommodations, Hinshaw said.
If an infected person has a separate bedroom and separate bathroom, and remains isolated from the rest of the household during the infectious period, the 14-day quarantine period for household contacts would begin on their last day of contact with the sick person, she said.
"If the case cannot isolate in a separate space from the rest of the household – and for all P1 and B1351 variant cases – we will continue to consider household contacts to be continuously exposed during the infectious period if a case remains in the same house, even if they have a separate bathroom and bedroom."
Three more COVID-19 deaths were reported, and Alberta hospitals were treating 340 patients for the illness, including 83 people in ICU beds.
The surge in cases coincides with a move to reinstate more stringent public-health restrictions.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced on Tuesday the province will effectively return to Step 1 restrictions in an effort to curb infections and ease pressures on the health-care system.
Restaurants must close their indoor dining by Friday noon. Retail businesses must now further limit capacity. Libraries are to shutter. Gyms are facing further restrictions and group adult fitness activities are now prohibited. Indoor gatherings remain banned.
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Kenney and public health officials have characterized the situation as a battle between variants and vaccinations.
About 779,000 vaccine doses have now been administered across the province, Hinshaw said.
More than 1.5 million Albertans are currently eligible to receive the vaccine. The Kenney government has said that every adult in the province will be offered the vaccine by the end of June.