Sunday, January 23, 2022

Omicron tsunami restricts PCR testing to those at high risk: Hinshaw

‘Demand for PCR testing has pushed our testing system beyond its capacity,’ said Hinshaw

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Alberta’s top physician said on Monday that a tidal wave of Omicron COVID-19 infections – that is more than 10 times the number of known cases – prompted a move to limit PCR testing to high-risk individuals and settings. The province has been pushed.

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Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Dina Hinshaw, said the highly infectious version has overwhelmed the province’s general testing capacity and that those who do not fall under the more vulnerable categories should cancel their tests.

“The demand for PCR testing has pushed our testing system beyond its capacity,” she said, adding that without high-risk situations, testing would be started immediately at sites.

Those still eligible for PCR tests are acute-care or continuing care workers, symptomatic hospital patients who have not been vaccinated, those 55 years of age or older, or people with chronic health conditions.

She said this approach has been adopted by other provinces that are facing increasing pressure from the Omicron version.

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The changes come as those PCR tests recorded 17,577 new COVID-19 infections with a positivity rate of 39 percent as of January 7-9 – a number Hinshaw said captures only a tenth of the new cases, Noticed pressure on the test and often mild symptoms.

If true, instead of the 57,332 active cases currently recorded, the actual number would be more than 570,000, or about 13 percent of Alberta’s population.

It comes at a time when the province is asking Albertans to rely more on rapid at-home antigen tests, which many people still struggle to achieve.

Steele Graza has COVID-19 test kits picked up at Northwest Pharmacy on Monday, December 20, 2021.
Steele Graza has COVID-19 test kits picked up at Northwest Pharmacy on Monday, December 20, 2021. Photo by Azeen Ghafari/Postmedia

Hinshaw said that despite apparently less severe physical signs, hospitals in the province are gearing up for a much greater impact than those seen in recent weeks as the weight of the absolute number of infections is now beginning to be felt.

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The hospital now has at least 635 COVID-19 patients, of whom 72 are in ICU – an increase of 131 and eight respectively since last Thursday.

“It is very clear that cases are higher than before and it is clear that our hospitalizations are starting to rise,” Hinshaw said.

“We need to prepare for significant impacts.”

Hospitals in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick are struggling to handle an Omicron-powered influx of patients and are thought to be weeks ahead of Alberta in that trend.

Alberta Health Services’ most recent numbers on infections among employees show 5,427 active cases out of a total of about 109,000 of them.

“We have never seen transmissions like this before and in every segment of the workforce, especially in the health care sector which is seeing increased pressure on emergency departments and admissions to visits,” she said.

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This is why the province recently reduced the isolation time for fully vaccinated workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 from 10 to five days.

Hinshaw could not explain why the province had not released its two-week forecast for the impact of COVID-19 on hospitals.

“I’m not aware of whether decisions have been made on a public release, so I’m not sure whether that decision has been made,” she said.

The UCP government has not tightened restrictions significantly since the Omicron wave began, although on Monday Hinshaw said Albertans needed to take the version “seriously”.

She also said that “the decision about sanctions is not for me to make.”

The provincial government appears to have given up on controlling COVID-19 and is hoping to “rip through” Alberta, as proved by children returning to school without proper protection, Calgary’s said. Emergency doctor Dr. Joe Wipond said.

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“We are conducting this incredibly dangerous experiment on our society,” he said.

“The biggest long is COVID – we don’t know what’s in store for Omicron but we do know it has a greater impact on children.”

Vipond said, standing up for the right to refuse vaccination for COVID-19, the UCP government “cannot be mad (without vaccination) when they choose to do so.”

NDP health care critic David Shepherd said Albertans deserve more transparency.

“I am extremely concerned that we did not see the Minister of Health included in today’s update to provide the necessary information Albertans needs to make informed decisions around COVID-19, nor have we seen that the Minister of Education provided an update on the first day of school in the entire province,” Shepherd said.

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“Albertons cannot trust the UCP because they continue to shirk their responsibility and refuse to come up with important public health information. They must issue an AHS two-week forecast, and stop hiding the truth from Albertans.”

He said many Albertans still cannot obtain rapid tests for home use, adding that many feel “abandoned” by the provincial government.

“We are working hard to make rapid testing more widely available,” Hinshaw said.

The UCP government has said they expect to distribute millions more tests in the coming weeks, with provinces buying from private sources.

Meanwhile, six more people have died of COVID-19 since the end of last week, taking the total number of fatalities to 3,344.

Alberta Health said one of them, who died last Thursday, was a man under the age of 18 with pre-existing conditions.

[email protected]

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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