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
The police official blamed for not sending officers in more quickly to stop the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting is the chief of the school system's small police force, a unit dedicated ordinarily to building relationships with students and responding to the occasional fight.
Speakers at the National Rifle Association annual meeting assailed a Chicago gun ban that doesn't exist, ignored security upgrades at the Texas school where children were slaughtered and roundly distorted national gun and crime statistics as they pushed back against any tightening of gun laws.
Fifty-eight-year-old Vivian Ketchum is set to receive her high school diploma at a graduation ceremony at the University of Winnipeg next month. It is a moment that is decades in the making.
The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos was met with justifiable criticisms and unfounded conspiracy theories.
An 11-year-old survivor of the Robb Elementary School massacre in Uvalde, Texas, feared the gunman would come back for her so she smeared herself in her friend's blood and played dead.
Students trapped inside a classroom with a gunman repeatedly called 911 during this week's attack on a Texas elementary school, including one who pleaded, 'Please send the police now,' as officers waited more than an hour to breach the classroom after following the gunman into the building, authorities said Friday.
Fragments of a comet broken nearly 30 years ago could potentially light up the night sky Monday as experts predict an 'all or nothing' spectacle.
A new report says Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto rank among the top 20 cities around the world when it comes to work-life balance.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra says the federal government is working with groups on the ground to resolve air travel 'bottlenecks' in time for a busy summer.
A hotly-controversial decision on whether or not to freeze base funding for police in Edmonton was delayed Friday as fallout from a dispute between the mayor and the provincial justice minister continued to rattle political circles.
A 19-year-old man is in police custody after a shooting near Rogers Place after an Edmonton Oilers viewing party ended Thursday evening.
A shelter many expected to remain open until the end of June in Wetaskiwin, Alta., will close a month early.
A B.C. mom with a rare, debilitating illness has spent years trying to get the help she needs. Now she's considering medical assistance in dying.
The number of COVID-19 patients in B.C. hospitals hit its lowest point in more than a month this week, and the decline was driven largely by regions outside the Lower Mainland.
Researchers working in partnership with UBC believe an eco-friendly material could help solve the world’s plastic pollution problem.
A Cape Breton father is warning the public of the dangers in the area he lives after his teenager son fell nearly 40 feet over a cliff in Glace Bay.
A lawyer for families of victims killed in the Nova Scotia mass shooting says an 18-hour delay in finding five bodies of those murdered is a sign of "deficient" policing.
The lawyer who represented a man who murdered three RCMP officers nearly eight years ago in Moncton, N.B., said a decision made by the Supreme Court of Canada Friday may potentially change his sentence.
B.C. speedboat driver arrested with 650kg of meth 'feared for his family's safety,' he told U.S. investigators
New details are emerging after a 51-year-old Alberta man was arrested aboard a speedboat that U.S. authorities say was carrying 650 kilograms of methamphetamine between Washington state and British Columbia.
The emergency department at Port McNeill Hospital unexpectedly shut down on Friday evening due to a staffing shortage.
At least one building was destroyed Friday afternoon as firefighters rushed to a large fire at the vacant Pioneer Square Mall in Mill Bay, B.C.
WATCH | New video appears to show man carrying air rifle on Toronto streets before being killed by police
A man shot dead by police officers near a Toronto elementary school on Thursday afternoon appears to have been captured on home security footage carrying an air rifle moments before the incident.
A 21-year-old Toronto man is facing a slew of charges following a suspected hate-motivated incident at a Jewish school in North York.
Toronto Pearson International is warning travellers and Mississauga residents they may notice unusual activity at the airport this weekend.
Is it unconstitutional to make someone pay to get a legal document translated into French? One of Montreal's top lawyers thinks so, and pointed out two other things from Bill 96 that he thinks the courts would most easily find fault with.
Canada's highest court has ruled that Alexandre Bissonnette, who murdered six people at the Quebec City mosque in 2017, will be eligible for parole after 25 years.
Quebec says it is ready to vaccinate people who have come into close contact with monkeypox as soon as Friday.
NEW THIS MORNING
NEW THIS MORNING | Here's what we know about the storm cleanup in Ottawa today
Hydro Ottawa is not committing to a new deadline to restore power to thousands of customers, one week after a devastating storm with wind gusts of 190 km/h hit Ottawa.
NEW THIS MORNING
NEW THIS MORNING | What you need to know about Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend
It's the first in-person Ottawa Race Weekend in Ottawa since 2019, after the 2020 and 2021 events were shifted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of Friday evening, 26,000 Hydro Ottawa customers remain without power in all neighbourhoods of the city.
A man, who was a referee at high school volleyball games in Guelph for more than 30 years, is facing sex assault-related charges.
The Region of Waterloo says there's a high safety risk at a Kitchener encampment and they are working with residents to prepare them for their eventual move.
Two low-cost airlines are butting heads over an agreement at the Region of Waterloo International Airport. Swoop wants to offer flights but the airport already has an exclusivity deal with rival Flair Airlines
Barrett Ross says his dog Indy suffered a punctured bowel, lost a tooth and had his stomach injured when he was attacked by three other dogs.
The Saskatoon Tribal Council's (STC) temporary downtown shelter has been granted an extension to operate at its present location until April 2023 — but Tribal Chief Mark Arcand hopes to relocate well before then.
A pedestrian injured by a vehicle in Prince Albert has died.
Thursday evening, the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce hosted the 25th annual Bell Business Excellence Awards.
On Friday, there was a walk in Sudbury to remember the remains of 215 residential schoolchildren found in Kamloops, B.C., a year ago May 27.
Staff at the new Sault Metis Centre are getting set for the grand opening Saturday.
Pembina Trails School Division is confirming to CTV News that a group of students found a body during community cleanup at Ècole South Pointe School.
Winnipeg police are telling people to find an alternate route this afternoon as they are investigating a fatal crash near the St. Boniface Industrial Park.
'It's one way to be creative': Winnipeg student wants to be a bartender when older; school doesn't like comment in yearbook
Bartender. That is what one Grade 4 student said for the yearbook when asked what he wanted to be when he grows up, an answer the school is asking him to change.
Cyber security attacks happen every day, and as Regina Public Schools division discovered this week, no one is safe.
'Very upset': Senior housing residents plead for Sask. Housing Corporation to rebuild after winter fire
Former residents of a Carievale seniors housing complex want the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation (SHC) to reconsider its decision to demolish the home.
Premiers from western Canada met to discuss healthcare in their first face-to-face meeting in more than two years in Regina on Friday at the 2022 Western Premiers' Conference.