8 more deaths in Alberta from COVID-19 as hospitalizations continue to rise

As of Thursday, 786 Albertans were in hospital with COVID-19, up from 748 on Wednesday. There are now 79 patients in intensive care units, three fewer than Wednesday.

Alberta's test-positivity rate now sits just under 41 per cent

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, held a COVID-19 news conference Thursday. (CBC)

Alberta is reporting eight more deaths from COVID-19 and another increase in patients hospitalized for the illness.

As of Thursday, 786 Albertans were in hospital with COVID-19, up from 748 on Wednesday. There are now 79 patients in intensive care units, three fewer than Wednesday.

The province reported 6,010 new COVID-19 cases, although the true number of infections is expected to be much higher.

The highly infectious Omicron variant has pushed up Alberta's case counts and test positivity rate.

Alberta continues to ration PCR testing as Omicron pushes provincial labs beyond capacity. 

As of Thursday, there were 62,733 known active cases of COVID-19 across the province.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, has said reducing testing capacity means the true number of infections is likely to be 10 times higher.

Alberta's test-positivity rate is now just under 41 per cent. 

Alberta could see record COVID-19 hospitalizations within weeks, according to projections from the COVID-19 early warning system used by Alberta Health Services.

"Omicron is so transmissible that the rapidly increasing number of cases could get to a point where more people than any previous wave would need to be admitted for care in hospital," Hinshaw said at a news conference Thursday.

"Even if only a small percentage of cases are in hospital, that can still result in a high number of hospital admissions when tens of thousands of active cases are in the province," she said.

"This kind of surge could put extreme pressure on the health-care providers who have been working vigilantly and non-stop for almost two years.

"Our actions today can be a part of preventing that."

Changes to outbreak reporting

Rising case counts are forcing the province to change how it reports outbreaks, Hinshaw said.

Outbreaks in acute- and continuing-care facilities will be publicly reported Tuesdays and Fridays, if there are two or more COVID-19 cases in the facility, she said.

But the province will not be able to report outbreaks anywhere else.

"This approach is in line with what other provinces are doing, given the dramatic rise in cases due to Omicron," Hinshaw said.

"We encourage all workplaces to continue to follow COVID-prevention practices, and to have processes to make sure employees can stay home when sick — even if they have minor symptoms."

Premier Jason Kenney told the news conference that schools have only received 58 per cent of the rapid tests the province allocated to them.

During an announcement last week on the return to in-person learning, the province committed to distributing 4.3 million tests this week and another 4.3 million next week.

However, Alberta is encountering delays getting the tests from the federal government and from its own suppliers.

However, Kenney said he is pleased so far with the way schools are adapting to in-person learning following the holiday break.

"Reports of staff and student absences from classrooms are telling us that people are in fact following [public health guidelines], whether they're kids, bus drivers, teachers, lunchroom supervisors or educational assistants," Kenney said at the news conference.

"I am pleased to say that school authority preparation, experience gained over the past two difficult years, and the brief extension of the winter break last week, served the education system well.

"We've heard from only a small number of school authorities that some classes and grades have had to shift to online learning."