Alberta Health announced Friday it had confirmed 553 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, out of 9,694 tests.
The number of active COVID-19 cases in the province rose to 4,431, up 219 from Thursday. The active case number has been rising this week. On Wednesday it was 4,082, up slightly from 4,016 active cases Tuesday.
However, hospitalizations continued to trend down slightly. As of Friday, there were 344 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19 (as compared to 352 on Thursday), 68 of which were being treated in ICU (compared to 70 on Thursday).
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One new COVID-related death was reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours, bringing the provincial death toll since the pandemic began to 3,286.
The fatality was a man in his 70s from the Edmonton zone. Alberta Health said his case involved pre-existing conditions.
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There were 285 new cases involving variants identified, including 54 that were the Omicron variant of concern.
As of Friday, there were a total of 173 Omicron cases in Alberta. The number of cases identified as the Omicron variant in the Edmonton zone jumped from 19 to 63 in the last 24 hours.
Alberta Health confirmed to Global News that community spread or unknown sourcing represents 36 per cent of Omicron cases in the province, up from 21 per cent on Thursday.
The province said 63 cases were from community/unknown sources, 71 cases were in travellers, and 39 were close contacts of a case.
As of Friday, 85.1 per cent of Albertans aged 12 and older have been fully vaccinated.
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Energy Minister Sonya Savage tested positive for COVID-19, a spokesperson for her ministry confirmed Friday.
She has not received any information regarding variants of concern yet.
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“She is isolating at home and all of the Alberta Health COVID-19 protocols are being followed,” chief of staff Jerry Bellikka said. “She experienced extremely mild symptoms and is feeling fine. She has not attended any public events in recent days.”
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None of her constituency staff or ministry staff have tested positive, Bellikka said. One staff member was listed as a close contact but has tested negative.
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Ontario, Manitoba and BC announced tightened restrictions Friday, including capacity limits on restaurants, other venues and indoor gatherings.
Earlier in the week, Alberta announced a slight easement of a couple of health restrictions to allow people from different households (up to 10 people, regardless of vaccination status) to gather during the holidays.
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Dr. Darren Markland knows Albertans are tired of COVID-19 but he’s urging people not to underestimate the risks, especially in light of the Omicron variant.
“It’s a very significant threat to the health-care system and society,” he said. “Omicron is going to get us with all the cracks in the system. The unvaccinated, the un-boosted. There is a low to moderate risk throughout the population.”
Markland said Alberta hospitals are not ready for a fifth wave.
“Our hospitals are damaged. They are not functioning like they were two years ago, neither is the staff.”
The doctor said he is expecting a higher infection rate for health-care workers because of breakthrough cases and waning immunity.
“They will likely be mild. You will be protected by the vaccine, but if it runs through the hospital, it will take health-care workers out of the mix and we are already short-staffed.”
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Markland said Ontario has always been the “canary in the coalmine” for Alberta.
“The trends we see happening out east do move west. We will see the exact same crescendo in numbers as we see in Ontario.”
A statement from Alberta Health Services Friday confirmed the Omicron variant had not been detected in health-care workers in the province.
Kerry Williamson said AHS is continuing to have conversations around personal protective equipment use guidelines, including the use of N-95 respirators.
“We will continue to ensure that the appropriate steps are taken to protect the health and safety of all healthcare workers while they provide high-quality care to Albertans and prevent exposure to and transmission of COVID-19,” Williamson said.
Markland said they are still waiting for hospital numbers and ICU data. He suspects they will rise in the coming weeks.
“I suspect hospital numbers will come up. This is a numbers game. When you have a highly infectious virus, even if the disease is somewhat more mild and there is more protection out there, you will.”
–with files from Lauren Pullen & Adam Toy, Global News
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