Past the peak? Alberta experts cautiously optimistic as Omicron variant begins downward trend
Alberta’s health-care system remains under extensive strain with more people in hospital than at any previous time during the pandemic, but signs from wastewater analysts suggest the province is slowly beginning to surpass the peak of COVID-19 infections.
In Calgary, analysts tested wastewater through PCR signals and noticed in late December that the intensity of the virus spiked four to five times higher than the previous Delta variant.
Casey Hubert, research chair in geomicrobiology at the University of Calgary, said that since Jan. 11, those numbers have slowly trended downward.
“What we're looking for now is to see the PCR signal dropping over a successive number of days so if that trend continues, we will be able to predict even better if this virus is in fact slowing its spread,” Hubert said.
"We know with wastewater that we're catching everyone, and that's what's really valuable about it," Hubert added. "What we saw earlier in the pandemic is that wastewater testing correlated with clinical cases about one week in advance so what that means is that wastewater can provide an early warning signal about which way we're headed with COVID-19.”
Hubert noted that cases of COVID-19 are declining in 15 of 19 Alberta communities, including significant declines in the major hubs of Calgary and Edmonton.
ALBERTA NOT FOLLOWING ONTARIO REOPENING: KENNEY
On Thursday, Premier Jason Kenney announced Alberta will not follow suit with Ontario in reopening, noting that pressure on the health-care system is still expected to increase in the coming days.
However, he did say that Alberta could soon see a reprieve in case numbers.
“If the (Omicron) variant performs in Alberta like it has in jurisdictions all around the world, we can reasonably expect that we may now be beginning on the downslope of transmissions,” he said.
With a UCP leadership review vote days away, a new poll shows Alberta Premier Jason Kenney stuck around 30 per cent
“When do all these restrictions end? My answer is hopefully soon, but we have to get past Omicron. We’ve not yet reached the peak of hospitalizations; we have to support our health-care workers."
Kenney added that positivity rates are beginning to drop. On Thursday, the rate of positivity sat at 33 per cent, down from 41 per cent just one week prior.
Alberta also increased its hospital bed capacity, which included 18 additional beds set to open in the response unit in Edmonton and another 12 in Calgary’s South Health Campus starting Jan. 24.
The province reported 3,527 new infections and 264 more hospital admissions, raising the total number of patients receiving care to 1,131 — including 108 in intensive care. That marks the third-highest number of patients in hospital to date.
Eight more deaths were reported on Thursday, pushing the pandemic total to 3,421
HOSPITAL SYSTEM REMAINS A CHALLENGE
Infectious disease expert at the University of Calgary, Dr. Craig Jenne says the recent wastewater analysis is a positive data point in showing that the rapid expansion of the COVID-19 virus has stopped, but more encouraging data is still needed.
University of Calgary's Craig Jenne infectious disease expert said the low vaccine rate among 20 to 29-year-olds could be a concern when school goes back to class in the fall
He says Alberta can safely say it’s hit the peak only once the downward trend continues for several more days or a few more weeks.
“I think that that's one thing that we have seen throughout the pandemic is this time disconnect between the peak of new cases and peak of hospitalizations as hospitalizations always follow two to three weeks after the peak of infections,” Jenne said.
“So when we pass this peak and we start the downward side of new infections, unfortunately hospitalizations will continue to rise for a period of time.”
Jenne also noted that one of the only true ways to see a solid decline is to increase the number of Albertans receiving booster shots.
“People that are fully-vaccinated and boosted are at significantly lower risk when we compare them to age matched and health condition matched non-vaccinated patients requiring hospitalization or requiring ICU admission,” he said.
“Depending on the age group, sometimes this is approaching 20 times less at risk.”
Disease specialist with the University of Alberta, Dr. Lynora Saxinger agrees that hospitalizations will increase according to past trends, including a further burden on health-care workers.
Dr. Lynora Saxinger
"And again, on the way down, there's just as many cases so we would be anticipating really significant challenges in the health-care system for the next several weeks and we're already I think, struggling and having to open new spaces and having difficulty with staffing,” she said.
“The staff are under a lot of stress already so I can't say that this is looking to be a great time and weeks ahead.”
To help ease staffing pressures, 610 nursing students will join Alberta Health Services to help provide pandemic care. The students will be supervised by trained nurses and receive educational credit.
LAW PROFESSOR: MESSAGING FROM PROVINCE WILL INFLUENCE HUMAN BEHAVIOUR
University of Calgary law professor Lorian Hardcastle notes that messaging from Premier Kenney and the province has been "watered down" and should stress the importance of taking a more proactive approach to slow spread of the virus.
“The government had time to do more to make schools safe in that week that the children were delayed and coming back and certainly there have been a lot of disputes around school ventilation,” Hardcastle said.
“I think as well, we had less supply of rapid tests, for example, to give children in schools than in other provinces, because we had used so many of our rapid tests in the private sector.”
Hardcastle noted that Kenney will need to be careful in what he says to the public so that others may not be encouraged to take less precautions that they otherwise might take.
For example, she noted that AHS workers were prepared to deal with the vaccine mandate and not to exempt worksites, but had received a directive from the Ministry of Health to exempt particular sites.
“So these measures were the AHS vaccine mandate hasn't been strictly enforced, have really been driven by the government rather than rather than AHS itself,” Hardcastle said.
“It’s not clear if those workers were truly needed back to keep the healthcare system going or whether there are political undercurrents around the premier and some of his caucus or constituents who are unvaccinated.”
Calgary Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
By now it's as predictable as the calls for thoughts and prayers: A mass shooting leaves many dead, and wild conspiracy theories and misinformation about the carnage soon follow. Within hours of Tuesday's school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, another rash began as internet users spread baseless claims about the man named as the gunman and his possible motives.
Canada is committing an extra $1 million to help the international community investigate sex crimes by Russian troops in Ukraine. Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Canada would give the extra funds to the International Criminal Court to help it investigate sexual violence toward women, and also crimes against children.
Conservative Party of Canada leadership hopefuls Scott Aitchison, Roman Baber, Patrick Brown, Jean Charest, Leslyn Lewis, and Pierre Poilievre squared off in the second official party debate on Wednesday night in Laval, Que.
Several parts of the country, including British Columbia and Canada's Maritime provinces, are likely to see wetter-than-normal conditions this summer, according to AccuWeather's annual summer forecast.
Tens of thousands of Ontario residents are facing another day without power as restoration efforts continue following last weekend's vicious storm.
Frustrated onlookers urged police officers to charge into the Texas elementary school where a gunman's rampage killed 19 children and two teachers, witnesses said Wednesday, as investigators worked to track the massacre that lasted upwards of 40 minutes and ended when the 18-year-old shooter was killed by a U.S. Border Patrol team.
Families are sharing photos and stories of their loved ones, who lost their lives in a mass shooting in Texas that killed at least 19 children and two adults on Tuesday afternoon.
During an appearance on ABC's Good Morning America on Wednesday, adopted siblings Hannah Raleigh of Chicago and Limia Ravart of Montreal met in person for the first time after an ancestry test confirmed the two are in fact related.
A fire in the neonatal unit of a hospital in Senegal has killed 11 newborns, President Macky Sall said. Only three infants could be saved.
If you visit downtown Edmonton in the next 11 days, you might see some strange and unusual sights. Art installations and musical performances are popping up throughout the area as part of Downtown Spark.
Even though they cheer for opposite teams, a proposal by a Flames fan at Game 4 of the Battle of Alberta received a resounding "yes" from the Oilers-loving bride to be.
The body of a missing canoer has been located in northeast Alberta.
The decision to focus on urgent and emergency health care to avert long waits played a key role in B.C.’s current primary care crisis, and the costlier care is compounding the problem.
A social media video that captures the moment a man gets Tasered by a Vancouver police officer is prompting calls for more training for police going out mental health calls.
A judge has refused to grant a B.C. cannabis company an injunction against a man who used a list of email addresses the company accidentally sent to all shareholders against it.
As the inquiry into Nova Scotia’s mass shooting moves its public proceedings to Truro, many of the family members affected by the tragedy and their lawyers are boycotting the proceedings over the next week.
Former Chief Anchor Steve Murphy offers a timely perspective on the Mass Casualty Commission and the difference 30 years after the Westray inquiry.
Speaking off-script at an event in Halifax Wednesday morning, Canada's Minister of Public Safety said he was gutted by the latest mass shooting south of the border - the 27th in a school this year alone.
Authorities are investigating Wednesday after the body of a porpoise was discovered on a beach near Victoria.
Victoria police say three men were arrested after a random bear spray attack occurred on Monday.
A British Columbia company that was once at the forefront of the booming plant-based meats industry is shuttering stores and production plants as it struggles to survive.
Was your home damaged by the Ontario storm? Insurance companies say payouts could take weeks to process
The insurance industry says it could take up to six weeks to get an idea of how many hundreds of millions of dollars in pay outs will be required from the weekend storm that brought death and destruction to Ontario and Quebec, but that early estimates are substantial.
Police have released new video of a recent incident in which a vehicle was caught doing doughnuts and speeding along the shoulder of busy Ontario roadways.
People all across Ontario are getting creative when it comes to netting a secondary income, otherwise known as a “side hustle,” and many are turning to secondhand economies thriving on online platforms.
Quebec politicians were not pleased with the federal Liberals' comments on Bill 96 and Bill 21, firing back with a slew of protests and even raising sovereignty as the solution.
Quebec's public health department is set to give its first press conference on the growing monkeypox outbreak as the province recorded its 16th confirmed case Wednesday.
Several of the six aspiring Conservative leaders expressed their opposition to Bill 96 during a French-language debate in Laval on Wednesday night, but others shied away from the opportunity to express their views on the issue.
NEW THIS MORNING
NEW THIS MORNING | Here's what you need to know about the storm cleanup in Ottawa today
Hydro Ottawa is hoping to energize hydro lines in the Merivale Road area today, as the cleanup continues following last Saturday's devastating storm.
The president of Hydro Ottawa says "with a little bit of luck" power will be restored along the Merivale Road area on Thursday, bringing power to another 15,000 to 20,000 customers still in the dark following Saturday's storm.
The Ottawa Catholic School Board says all schools with power will be open on Thursday, but 14 schools without power will remain closed.
New details are emerging about the tragic incident that killed 27-year-old Shelby Humble-Neale on Saturday.
Waterloo regional police say evidence of gunfire found in McLennan Park in Kitchener is connected to another shooting incident in the nearby area of Windflower Drive and Windflower Crescent.
Two 29-year-old men have been seriously injured following a collision in Baden, Ont., with one needing to be airlifted to a hospital outside the region.
The Prime Minister toured the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, which is working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
Saskatoon Police Service says that the use and presence of potent new synthetic opioids known as nitazenes are difficult to track and monitor.
A 48-year-old semi-truck driver was killed in in a rollover near Meadow Lake on Tuesday.
Sault Ste. Marie city council is asking staff to prepare a report on group homes. This comes after Ward 1 Coun. Paul Christian brought forward concerns this week about two such homes.
There are currently a dozen statues at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes property, and all are from the 1950s.
It’s a sign that summer is on the horizon. Farmers’ markets are opening in cities and towns across the north.
The Manitoba Government could turn to the military for help as it struggles with staffing shortages, overcrowding, and in some cases, temporary closures of emergency rooms.
The Manitoba government is hinting it may allow more alcohol sales through private channels to boost customer convenience.
Hundreds of residents in River Park South were left without power Wednesday evening after a pole was knocked down on St. Anne's Road.
'All it takes is one': Sask. RCMP partner with Washington police to publicize disappearance of Mekayla Bali
Saskatchewan RCMP and the Washington State Patrol announced a collaboration of efforts to locate Mekayla Bali, who was 16-years-old when she was last on April 12, 2016 in Yorkton.
A new art exhibit at the George Bothwell Library is hoping to examine and remove the feeling of shame associated with people who are deaf and hard of hearing.
For those looking to hop the border into Manitoba for their camping seasons, it started off on the wrong foot for Duck Mountain Provincial Park.