Alberta now has 51 cases of COVID-19 variants, top doctor says

Alberta now has 51 cases of COVID-19 variants, including six in three households that don’t have clear links to travel, says the province’s top public health doctor.

The remainder of those cases, which include a variant first identified in the United Kingdom and another first identified in South Africa, were all brought into the province by travellers, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Monday at a news conference.

The total marks an increase since Friday of 14 such cases.

“With respect to the travel-related versus non-travel related, we are investigating at this point in time two other households, in addition to the one that I’ve spoken about before, that have a total of three cases,” Hinshaw said. “So, one household with two, one household with one case at this point that are confirmed to have the variant.

“We just received that information earlier today and so we are doing an investigation at this point in time. We don’t know a travel history, and with this new confirmed case result of these three we will be doing further investigations to determine any sources or linkages.”

Hinshaw said the source of the infection has still not been identified in the first case found of a variant not related to travel. Investigators also have not seen any further spread outside that household, she added.

The province is still counting variant cases manually and the data entered into the system by hand, she said. For regular COVID-19 cases, the data is all automated.

She hopes to soon be able to publish detailed information about the variant cases, including identifying the zones where affected individuals live, on the Alberta government’s COVID-19 website.

It’s important with variant cases to know where those infected live versus where they were tested, and if they needed hospital care where they were admitted, she said.

Hinshaw said the provincial lab has reached its goal of being able to screen 300 samples each day for the two variants.

The lab also reached its goal last week of being able to do full genome testing on 400 samples each week, she said.

Full-genome sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus can help detect any variants or mutations, not only those variants from the U.K and South Africa.

The province reported 355 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and 10 more deaths.

That brings the total number of deaths to 1,641 since the pandemic began in March.

Across the province there are 7,387 active cases, with 556 patients being treated in hospitals for the illness, including 102 in ICU beds.

“While our cases and hospitalizations are trending down, we still have work to do,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Monday at a news conference.

“We have reached a place where we should be able to further ease measures on Feb. 8, but we have seen cases fall and rise before. We all must remain vigilant and be extra careful to help keep schools, continuing-care facilities and all other settings safe, and to keep our hospitalizations trending downwards.

“We all must keep doing our part to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our community at large.”

Monday’s active case total was the lowest since Nov. 6, when there were 7,337 cases.

A regional breakdown of active cases on Monday was:

  • Calgary zone: 2,950
  • Edmonton zone: 2,439
  • North zone: 934
  • Central zone: 709
  • South zone: 330
  • Unknown: 25

The province announced on Friday a four-stage reopening framework that will be guided by benchmarks in hospitalization numbers — 600, 450, 300 and 150.

As the number of patients falls below — and stays below — those targets, the Alberta government will consider lifting restrictions on a list of activities.

The first round of reopening, scheduled for Feb. 8, would allow restaurants and gyms to reopen for limited in-person services.

When hospitalizations fall below 450, restrictions would be eased on retail businesses, community halls and hotels, banquet halls and conference centres. 

Below 300, restrictions would loosen on places of worship, adult team sports, public attractions, theatres, casinos and libraries.

All other activities — including festivals, weddings and sporting events — would have to wait until hospitalizations drop below 150.

To move from one stage to the next, hospitalizations must remain below the benchmark for three weeks.

Active cases have been dropping for the last month.

As of Sunday, 106,254 Albertans had received their first doses of the vaccine.

Of those, 16,118 had been fully immunized with a second booster dose.

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