Alberta’s recommendations for COVID-19 testing have changed as the province braces for an influx of cases prompted by the Omicron version.
Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Dina Hinshaw reiterated the speed of transmission of the variant during her COVID-19 update on Thursday. Alberta is spreading on par with other jurisdictions — a doubling time of only two or three days, Hinshaw said.
“This is much faster than the experience with the Delta version over the past six months,” she said on Thursday.
To reduce the burden on provincial laboratory testing, Hinshaw said rapid testing should be used for most people with symptoms and encouraged Albertans to use rapid testing over PCR testing. PCR testing should still be done in high priority settings such as health care.
He said that those found positive in the rapid test should take it as confirmation and isolate. A further rapid test should be performed 24 to 48 hours after a negative test, but should be combined with isolation.
After a second negative test, Albertans will have to be isolated until they have symptoms.
Hinshaw said the changes would affect monitoring of the COVID-19 spread and that the province would rely more heavily on wastewater monitoring and other monitoring systems. She said this is not a situation unique to Alberta.
“No one in Canada will be able to do a PCR test for every community case with mild symptoms.”
Hinshaw said PCR testing is not being blocked, but the recommendations are changing as a proactive step to ensure laboratory capacity.
“As we have seen in many other provinces, all those experiencing significant omicron surges, we are seeing that laboratory-testing capacity is exceeded very quickly.”
Contact tracing will be shifted to focus on high priority settings such as collective care and health care facilities.
Screening procedures for staff in collective care settings were also being updated, including requiring employees who are known to have close contacts to take daily rapid tests for 10 days after exposure.
Residents of assisted living facilities identified as close contacts or after an absence of 24 hours or more should return to their facility and actively check for symptoms every day and wear a medical mask for two weeks should wear.
COVID-19 in Alberta
Alberta reported 1,625 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, detected through nearly 11,800 tests. The positivity rate sits at 13.6 percent.
There were no new deaths at Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.
As of Thursday, 318 people were in hospital, of whom 64 were in intensive care.
“While these numbers have fallen in recent weeks, it is important to know that there are very high baselines and it will be too soon to know what the severity effect will be from our Omicron cases,” Hinshaw said on Thursday.
Alberta now has 8,359 active cases of COVID-19 – an increase of more than 1,000 since the last update.
Hinshaw said there has been a significant uptick of the third dose since eligibility was expanded — 196,391 boosters had been booked since the announcement on Tuesday.
She once again reiterated her call earlier this week for Albertans to cut their personal social contacts by at least half over the holidays.
The total number of Omicron cases has risen in Alberta and is now considered a major strain in the province.
Transmission of the new strain has raised the number of daily cases in the province to levels not seen for months.
On Tuesday, Alberta introduced new public health restrictions, expanding rapid testing and third-dose vaccination, to curb the spread of Omicron.
Hinshaw will provide live updates on Tuesday and Thursday of next week but daily updates to the government’s COVID-19 dashboard will slow during the holidays. The new data, including daily numbers, will be made available on December 29 and January 4.