CALGARY -- With the winter cold and flu season approaching, the province is changing its COVID-19 testing approach and will be prioritizing Albertans with symptoms and those who are at higher risk of getting or spreading the novel coronavirus.

The goal, health officials said Thursday, is to reduce testing wait times and speed up access to results.

Priority testing will be available to:

  • Any person exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19;
  • All close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases, and;
  • All workers and/or residents at specific outbreak sites.

Voluntary asymptomatic testing is also being offered to:

  • School teachers and support staff;
  • Health care workers;
  • Staff and residents at congregate living facilities, including long-term care;
  • Albertans experiencing homelessness;
  • Travellers who require testing prior to departure;
  • Asymptomatic testing will be available to additional groups if required, and;
  • Anyone who is not showing symptoms but is concerned about their health should speak to the health care provider.

Alberta Health admitted that the method of testing Albertans who are not exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19 isn't coming up with a large percentage of the daily cases.

"(Asymptomatic testing) yields seven positive cases for every 10,000 people tested," Hinshaw said during Thursday's update.

"(This) emphasizes the fact that this testing is not contributing significantly to the new cases that we are seeing."

However, Hinshaw said locating and identifying individual cases of COVID-19 wasn't the aim of asymptomatic testing in the first place.The goal was to help researchers learn more about the illness and how it spreads in the community.

"I would like to thank everyone who participated in the asymptomatic testing program in the recent months," said Hinshaw. "This testing has given us a far better understanding of how COVID-19 is and isn't spread."

Alberta has conducted more than 223,000 voluntary asymptomatic tests since May 29.

Given the ratio Hinshaw mentioned earlier, this means only about 162 of those tests returned positive results.

Anyone who is experiencing symptoms should self-isolate and book a test online using the AHS assessment tool, or call 811.

Pharmacies are also offering testing for Albertans without symptoms and no known exposure to COVID-19 and more information is available online.

Earlier this week, AHS confirmed the location of drop-in COVID-19 testing centre in Calgary had been moved to the former Greyhound Bus terminal, just off 14th Street, between Ninth Avenue and Bow Trail S.W.

The Richmond Road Diagnostic and Treatment Centre, which had previously been the location for drop-in testing, still does tests but by appointment only.

Officials reported 146 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday as active cases continued to increase in the Edmonton region.

Infections decreased slightly to 1,483 across Alberta. Edmonton saw its cases spike to 672, while Calgary's cases declined from 447 to 416.

There are 41 people being treated in hospital and eight of those are in intensive care.

There were no new COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, keeping the count at 254.

Alberta has reported 16,274 cases of COVID-19 since March.

With files from CTV Calgary's Michael Franklin