Alberta now has the capacity to investigate and trace all contacts for up to 1,500 COVID-19 cases each day, the province’s health minister says.
The province had only 50 contact tracers when the pandemic began last March but now has about 2,300, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Thursday at a news conference.
That workforce includes a dedicated team of 50 tracers who work only on cases of people infected with more contagious variants of the coronavirus, he said.
“The team has made incredible gains,” Shandro said. “In January alone, case investigators and contact tracers from Alberta Health Services closed a total of 21,216 investigations. That’s the highest monthly number of COVID-19 investigations closed to date.”
Alberta Health can now contact anyone who tests positive within 24 hours, he said. On Jan. 12, the team contacted and traced 1,003 cases in 24 hours.
Alberta’s daily case numbers are below Canadian average and continue to trend down, Shandro said.
“We broke the trend, turned it straight down in the middle of winter, no less,” he said. “Right through through the holiday season. Weeks before vaccinations started to even have an effect in our province. We asked people to protect each other and protect the health system, and they’re doing just that.
“We’re still at risk, especially from the new variants. We have to continue to be careful. But Albertans have shown that they can do what it takes to bend the curve. And that’s why I believe it’s safe to move forward with our careful, staged reopening.”
14 new variant cases
The province reported 415 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and seven more deaths from the disease.
That case total included 14 new cases where people were infected with a more contagious variant of the coronavirus.
There are now 239 variant cases in the province, including 232 of variant B.1.1.7, first identified in the United Kingdom, and seven of variant B.1.351, which was first detected in South Africa.
Across the province, 362 patients were being treated in hospitals for the illness, including 55 in ICU beds.
There were 4,887 active cases on Thursday. The regional breakdown of those cases was:
- Calgary zone: 1,734
- Edmonton zone: 1,287
- North zone: 799
- Central zone: 729
- South zone: 333
- Unknown: 5
Dr. Mark Joffe, an Alberta Health Services vice-president and medical director for northern Alberta, said the province is in “a much better place” than it was in December.
“New cases have been trending down across the province over the last several weeks,” he said. “In recent weeks, we’ve seen individuals with COVID-19 have had about five or six close contacts each. This compares with back in November when the average was about 15 close contacts for each individual.
“Thank you to all Albertans for keeping your social bubbles small. And please keep doing so.”
Hinshaw urges cooperation with tracers
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, encouraged people who test positive to work with contact tracers to help control the spread of the illness.
“I know it can be difficult to fully appreciate just how impactful and far reaching each one of our individual actions can be,” she said. “With every contact tracing call, we see the connections extend out like branches from a tree, from one person to their friends, their family, their co-workers and so on.
“If you test positive for the virus and find yourself contemplating whether or not to work with contact tracers, please think for a moment about the repercussions of not participating.
It has been 10 days since some restrictions were eased. Now provincial health officials are keeping an eye on the numbers to determine the next phase of reopening.
Alberta’s phased approach to reopening is directly tied to hospitalization numbers and influenced by other indicators, such as infection rates and case counts.
If the number of people in hospital remains below 450, restrictions listed under Step 2 of the reopening framework could be loosened as early as March 1.
About 155,530 doses of vaccine have been administered, and more than 58,675 people have been fully immunized with two doses.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Wednesday that the province will lay out its priority lists for the next phases of the vaccine distribution program “pretty soon” after studying what other provinces are doing.
Kenney said, after supply of the vaccine effectively ran out in mid-January, the next phases of the campaign remain a “moving target.”
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