COVID-19 live updates: Federal modelling shows surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations; Alberta post-secondaries extend online learning through February; Alphonso Davies out with myocarditis

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COVID-19 live updates: Federal modelling shows surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations; Alberta post-secondaries extend online learning through February; Alphonso Davies out with myocarditis

Watch this page throughout the day for updates on COVID-19 in Edmonton

Publishing date:

Jan 14, 2022  •  5 hours ago  •  26 minute read  •  8 Comments

The University of Alberta is extending online learning until the end of February as the province grapples with the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Omicron variant. April 27, 2021. Ed Kaiser/Postmedia
The University of Alberta is extending online learning until the end of February as the province grapples with the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Omicron variant. April 27, 2021. Ed Kaiser/Postmedia Photo by Ed Kaiser /Postmedia

With COVID-19 news changing every day, we have created this file to keep you up-to-date on all the latest stories and information in and around Edmonton.

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Help us tell the COVID-19 story in Edmonton

As Alberta continues to navigate the unpredictable waves of COVID-19, we’re looking to hear your stories on this evolving situation.

  • If you are a healthcare worker, how does the Omicron variant compare with past waves of the pandemic?
  • Did you or someone you love catch Omicron over the holidays? If so, how did you fare?
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1: 34 p.m.

Federal modelling shows a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations due to Omicron: Tam

The Canadian Press

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam.
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam. Photo by Patrick Doyle/Reuters/File

Canada may be approaching the peak of the Omicron wave of COVID-19, but federal health experts still expect the high number of cases to drive a surge in daily hospitalizations in coming weeks.

New federal modelling released Friday shows the wave may be cresting — or just about to — but health experts won’t know for sure for another week or so.

“It’s quite possible that in the next few days we will see that peak, at least in the number of cases,” chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said at a briefing.

This wave is expected to top out at between 170,000 and 300,000 actual daily cases and recede into February, based on available data.

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“The true number of daily cases, driven by extremely high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, could still vastly exceed anything we have experienced to date during this pandemic,” Tam said.

Current national case counts show about 37,500 new cases are reported daily, but those are far underestimated because many parts of the country no longer provide laboratory tests for the majority of the population.

About 28 per cent of lab tests that are performed are coming back positive.

“The current very high positivity rate shows that COVID-19 is widespread and that case counts underestimate the true burden of infection in the broader population,” Tam said.

The number of hospitalizations also help to give a clearer picture of how the virus is sweeping through the population, she said.

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10: 34 a.m.

University of Alberta extends online learning to end of February

Anna Junker

Empty classroom at the University of Alberta.
Empty classroom at the University of Alberta. Photo by Candace Elliott /Postmedia

The University of Alberta is extending online learning until the end of February as the province grapples with the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Omicron variant.

In a news release Friday, the university announced it would delay the return to in-person classes until Feb. 28, after Reading Week which runs Feb. 22 to Feb. 25. The University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge are also delaying their return to in-person learning.

“We know that a return to campus as soon as possible is in the best interests of all members of the university community,” said U of A President Bill Flanagan in the release.

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“Given what we currently know about the anticipated peak of Omicron, we have a high degree of confidence that we can safely return to campuses and our full Winter 2022 schedule of in-person courses on Feb. 28.”

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Teaching will remain primarily online until the end of February, along with enhanced safety measures. Residences remain open to students living there, and select in-person course components such as labs or exams may take place in person with appropriate safety measures before the full return to in-person.

“The decisions we make now are not easy, but they are necessary,” said Flanagan. “Fewer points for close contact ensures that we keep the community as safe as possible while maintaining key in-person courses as well as critical operations and services.”


UPDATED: 11: 15 a.m.

Canadian soccer star Alphonso Davies out for critical game with COVID-19 symptom

National Post

Soccer superstar Alphonso Davies has been diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, after testing positive for coronavirus. The inflammation can reduce the heart’s ability to pump and cause rapid or irregular rhythms (arrhythmias). Infection with a virus usually causes mycarditis. (PHOTO BY LARRY WONG/POSTMEDIA)
Soccer superstar Alphonso Davies has been diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, after testing positive for coronavirus. The inflammation can reduce the heart’s ability to pump and cause rapid or irregular rhythms (arrhythmias). Infection with a virus usually causes mycarditis. (PHOTO BY LARRY WONG/POSTMEDIA) Photo by Larry Wong /Postmedia

The 21-year-old from Edmonton will remain absent from the field, with his participation in doubt for Canada World Cup qualifiers later this month.

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“He’ll sit out training until further notice. He won’t be available, also in the coming weeks,” Nagelsmann told a pre-match news conference in German on Friday.

“The ultrasound shows this myocarditis isn’t so dramatic, but it’s a sign of myocarditis. Still, it has to heal and that will definitely take some time,” he added.

Last week Bayern said Davies had tested positive but was recovering well at home. He was one of six Bayern stars who returned to training on Wednesday after bouts of COVID.

Myocarditis can reduce the heart’s ability to pump, cause shortness of breath, arrhythmia, and in rare cases, sudden cardiac arrest. The condition can be more severe with athletes if left unmonitored.

Davies, seen as a world-class back for his speed, timing and finesse, takes a more offensive position when playing for Canada. The men’s team is attempting to qualify for its second-ever World Cup appearance and is currently at the top spot in the final round of in CONCACAF with a 4-0-4 record.

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Canada’s upcoming World Cup qualifying matches are against Honduras (Jan. 27), the U.S. (Jan. 30) and El Salvador (Feb. 2). The U.S. game will be played at home in Hamilton.

Davies has won 35 caps for Canada with 10 goals and 15 assists.

Additional reporting from Canadian Press


Friday

Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe gets COVID-19 after removing mask at news conference

The Canadian Press

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe speaks in Saskatoon on October 25, 2021.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe speaks in Saskatoon on October 25, 2021. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer says he’s considering whether to revise the province’s public health order on masks in light of Premier Scott Moe testing positive on Thursday for COVID-19 after a news conference on Wednesday.

When asked whether Moe should have kept his mask on while speaking, Shahab said he has “flagged internally” for review a masking exemption for public speaking in light of Omicron.

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Moe took off his mask at a COVID-19 briefing Wednesday with Shahab, government officials, a sign language interpreter and reporters in the same room.

On Thursday morning, he tested positive for the virus using a rapid-antigen test.

The 14 people who were at the briefing were told to self-monitor for symptoms.

The premier tweeted that he was feeling fine and would self-isolate at home for the next few days. Moe is fully vaccinated and tweeted about receiving his booster shot on Dec. 28.

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Friday

Australia revokes Novak Djokovic’s visa and moves to deport the unvaccinated tennis star

Reuters

Novak Djokovic of Serbia attends a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 14, 2022.
Novak Djokovic of Serbia attends a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 14, 2022. Photo by MARTIN KEEP / AFP

Unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic on Friday asked an Australian court to block his deportation ahead of the Australian Open after the government canceled his visa for the second time over COVID-19 entry regulations.

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Djokovic’s lawyers submitted their request for an injunction late at night, less than three hours after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used discretionary powers to revoke the visa.

The world tennis number one, bidding for a record 21st Grand Slam trophy in defending his Australian title, had been told on arrival on Jan. 5 that his visa, granted on the basis of a medical exemption from a vaccination requirement for visitors, was invalid.

He spent several days in immigration detention before that decision was revoked on procedural grounds. His lawyers said the government had told them Djokovic would not be taken back into detention on Friday night.

The Age newspaper reported that the 34-year-old Serbian had been summoned to appear before immigration officials on Saturday.

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Friday

Homeless in B.C. and Alberta approached to take COVID-19 vaccines for others

The Canadian Press

A homeless man sits in an inner city back alley in Edmonton. File photo.
A homeless man sits in an inner city back alley in Edmonton. File photo. Photo by John Lucas /Postmedia

Homeless and vulnerable people in British Columbia and Alberta have been approached with offers of payment to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by those attempting to fraudulently get a vaccine card.

Vancouver Coastal Health said Thursday those who have been approached have been asked to get vaccinated while falsely using that person’s name and information.

“This behaviour is deplorable and we’re disappointed that anyone would take advantage of vulnerable people in this way in an attempt to circumvent the process for receiving a BC Vaccine Card,” the health authority said in a statement.

“Future instances of fraud may be forwarded to local police authorities for follow up.”

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Friday

Regina mom vows to find 7-year-old daughter after ex-husband fled with the girl to avoid having her vaccinated

Washington Post

Michael Jackson. Courtesy Mariecar Jackson
Michael Jackson. Courtesy Mariecar Jackson Photo by Gilmour, Kier /PST

In sunglasses and a black beanie, a Canadian man named Michael Jackson on Friday appeared on “Live with Laura-Lynn,” a right-wing online show, and explained why he’s been on the run with his 7-year-old daughter for the last two months.

Jackson told the host, Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, that his ex-wife wanted to vaccinate their daughter against the coronavirus, and “I couldn’t let it happen.”

Jackson did not say where he was speaking from but admitted that he has kept the girl since about Nov. 11, long past when he was supposed to return her to her mother.

Upon learning that his wife would probably vaccinate the girl, Jackson said, “My choice was made then and there that this wasn’t going to work, and that I had to protect my daughter from it.”

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“So . . . I kept her,” he added.

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Friday

Virus contamination drops 90 per cent just minutes after droplets exhaled, report finds

National Post Wire Services

Two socially-distanced women enjoy some conversation with coffee at Hawrelak Park in Edmonton on Friday March 12, 2021. (Photo by Larry Wong/Postmedia)
Two socially-distanced women enjoy some conversation with coffee at Hawrelak Park in Edmonton on Friday March 12, 2021. (Photo by Larry Wong/Postmedia) Photo by Larry Wong /Postmedia

Coronavirus loses most of its ability to infect shortly after being exhaled and is less likely to be contagious at longer distances, a study from the University of Bristol’s Aerosol Research Centre showed.

Researchers found that the virus loses 90 per cent of its contagion capacity 20 minutes after becoming airborne and that most of that loss happens in the first five minutes of it reaching the air, according to the study, that simulates how the virus behaves after exhaling.

With countries in Europe opening the debate about an endemic phase to the virus, insights into the way the virus travels across the air will help guide containment measures. The results of this study, which hasn’t been peer-reviewed, reinforce the notion that the virus is mainly transmitted over short distances, providing fresh support for social distancing and mask-wearing as means to curb infections.

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“When you move further away, not only is the aerosol diluted down, there’s also less infectious virus because the virus has lost infectivity (as a result of time),” Jonathan Reid, the director of the research centre, said in an interview with the Guardian, which first reported the study on Tuesday.

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Friday

‘In for a rough winter’: Ottawa says cross-border truckers must be vaccinated, reversing earlier announcement

Ryan Tumilty, National Post

Truckers have been exempt from most travel rules for the majority of the pandemic, because they are an essential service, but that exemption is now ending.
Truckers have been exempt from most travel rules for the majority of the pandemic, because they are an essential service, but that exemption is now ending. Photo by Hyungwon Kang/Reuters/File

After a day of confusion over border rules for truckers, the government confirmed Thursday Canadian drivers will have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to return back into the country or face testing and a lengthy quarantine.

On Wednesday evening, a Canadian Border Services Agency spokesperson said truckers would remain exempt from vaccination, testing and quarantine rules — a reversal from what the government had said publicly just hours before.

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After nearly 24 hours of confusion, the government confirmed the original rules were remaining in place as planned.

“Let us be clear: This has not changed. The information shared yesterday was provided in error,” said a statement from the ministers of health, transport, and public safety.

There was no explanation for how the error occurred or why it took nearly 24 hours to correct the mistake.

However, the new rules are set to exacerbate already stretched supply chains leading to shortages at grocery stores and elsewhere.

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Thursday

Alberta reports unprecedented 62,733 active cases; Kenney says rapid tests are delayed

Hamdi Issawi

Premier Jason Kenney provides an update on Alberta’s COVID-19 response in Calgary on Jan. 4, 2022.
Premier Jason Kenney provides an update on Alberta’s COVID-19 response in Calgary on Jan. 4, 2022. Photo by Azin Ghaffari /Postmedia

As Alberta grapples with an unprecedented number of active COVID-19 cases, some schools may have to wait longer for government supplied rapid tests.

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Addressing media Thursday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the province currently has 62,733 cases of COVID-19, largely driven by the Omicron variant of the virus causing the disease.

“This is the highest number of active cases that we have identified in Alberta at any time during (the pandemic),” Kenney said, noting that the figure represents only a fraction of the actual number of active cases. “That’s because the sharp and continued rise of Omicron has pushed demand for our testing beyond capacity here and in most countries and places around the world.”

However, Kenney added, there are no confirmed delivery dates for the 16.25 million rapid tests Ottawa earmarked for Alberta in January, which could affect the province’s own commitment to outfit schools that returned to in-person learning this week.

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“Schools have now received about 58 per cent of the initial supply of tests,” Kenney said. “As soon as we receive additional tests, we’ll get the remaining 42 per cent allocated, repackaged and distributed.”

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Thursday

Fewer staff, more patients placing strain on Alberta health-care system as Omicron rages

Jason Herring, Calgary

Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton is among the medical facilities throughout Canada that have had to reduce available beds or even close due to a shortage of staff.
Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton is among the medical facilities throughout Canada that have had to reduce available beds or even close due to a shortage of staff. Photo by Ed Kaiser/Postmedia

A rapid surge in COVID-19 infections due to the ultra-contagious Omicron variant has the health-care system under significant pressure, emergency room doctors in Southern Alberta say.

The strain comes both from an increase in patients requiring care due to infection with COVID-19, but also a growing number of health-care workers being unable to work due to illness or exposure to the virus.

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Staffing issues are causing challenges at Calgary emergency departments, said Dr. Eddy Lang, the city’s head of emergency medicine.

“There’s no question about the staffing issues. People are catching Omicron,” Lang said. “But we’re grateful that, number one, no staff that we know of are very sick.”

The number of hospital workers currently in isolation due to COVID-19 isn’t available, with Alberta Health Services not providing that information. The health authority said it doesn’t ask staff off sick why they aren’t working, and they don’t collect daily numbers for staff absences.

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Thursday

Calgary school districts buy N95 masks for staff as absentee rates, COVID-19 hospitalizations soar

Eva Ferguson, Calgary

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James Fowler High School students head out during the lunch break on the first day back in class after an extended Christmas break on Monday, January 10, 2022.
James Fowler High School students head out during the lunch break on the first day back in class after an extended Christmas break on Monday, January 10, 2022. Photo by Gavin Young/Postmedia

Calgary’s public and separate school districts have purchased N95 masks for school-based staff as they face unprecedented absentee rates, with some institutions still waiting for face coverings and rapid tests promised by the province.

But critics say even those additional supplies won’t be enough to keep schools open unless the province takes more action, such as providing N95s for all students and staff, putting HEPA filters in all classrooms and addressing low vaccination rates among school-aged children.

As Omicron cases continue to surge across the province, pediatric hospitalization rates are also rising, with an additional 25 hospital admissions among Albertans under the age of 19 since schools opened Monday.

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At the Calgary Board of Education, officials have ordered thousands of N95 masks for school-based staff, with the intention of purchasing more if Omicron continues its rapid surge.

“Working with our supplier Grand & Toy, we have ordered approximately 82,000 N95 equivalent masks,” said CBE spokeswoman Joanne Anderson.

“We anticipate this supply to last for approximately four weeks. More masks may be acquired based on usage and ongoing case counts.”

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Thursday

COVID-19 rapid tests trickle in as Alberta officials point to shipping delays for shortages

Brittany Gervais, Calgary

Premier Jason Kenney said Alberta’s government has made “rapid tests more widely available than anywhere else,” but without confirmed delivery dates it’s difficult to tell when Albertans can access more tests.
Premier Jason Kenney said Alberta’s government has made “rapid tests more widely available than anywhere else,” but without confirmed delivery dates it’s difficult to tell when Albertans can access more tests. Photo by Chris Young/The Canadian Press

As rapid test kit deliveries slowly trickle into Alberta, provincial officials are blaming shipping delays as the reason behind recent shortages.

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During Thursday’s COVID-19 update, Premier Jason Kenney said Alberta has made “rapid tests more widely available than anywhere else,” but couldn’t say when more tests will be available to Albertans.

“With no confirmed dates for the arrival of most of the supply into the province, it’s difficult to plan and to let Albertans know how they can access more tests,” Kenney said. “Regrettably, this delay will affect the timing of rapid test shipments for some schools.”

In a Twitter thread posted Wednesday evening, Health Minister Jason Copping said there are no firm delivery dates for the 16.25 million tests that were expected to arrive from Ottawa this month.

Alberta’s government has directly purchased another 10 million tests, plus 3.7 million additional tests in January, Kenney said.

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Thursday

Ottawa reverses course on mandatory vaccines for Canadian truckers crossing border

Reuters

A transport truck enters Ontario over the Thousand Islands Bridge from the United States, in June 2021.
A transport truck enters Ontario over the Thousand Islands Bridge from the United States, in June 2021. Photo by JESSICA MUNRO/Postmedia news

Canadian truckers will remain exempted from COVID-19 vaccine requirements at the international border, but unvaccinated drivers from the United States will be turned back starting Jan. 15, a spokesperson at the Canada Border Services Agency said on Wednesday.

Canadian truck drivers arriving at the international border will also remain exempt from pre-arrival, arrival and post-arrival testing and quarantine requirements, Rebecca Purdy, the agency’s spokesperson, said.

The decision is a change in policy to the government’s decision from November, when it asked all truck drivers to be vaccinated by Jan. 15, and from earlier this week when it asked Canadian drivers to quarantine for 14 days.

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More than two-thirds of the C$650 billion ($511 billion) in goods traded annually between Canada and the United States travels on roads.

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Thursday

Promising COVID treatments working through Health Canada approval process

Ryan Tumilty, National Post

Health Canada is reviewing data on Paxlovid, a potential treatment for COVID-19 developed by Pfizer.
Health Canada is reviewing data on Paxlovid, a potential treatment for COVID-19 developed by Pfizer. Photo by Handout/Pfizer/AFP via Getty Images)

Canada’s health minister said regulators are working hard to review data on a treatment for COVID-19 already in use in the United States and preparing in advance to get the pills to patients.

Several provincial premiers have called on the government to approve Paxlovid, a treatment for COVID-19 developed by Pfizer which has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization for people provided they receive the drug within five days of their first symptoms.

A full treatment course of the drug runs for five days, with two pills taken each day.

Drug maker Merck has a similar drug called molnupiravir, which has also been shown to reduce hospitalizations, though not as significantly as Pfizer’s pill. Both companies stress their drug is not a substitute for vaccination, but say it can reduce the likelihood that someone who gets the virus will end up in hospital.

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Letter of the day

Life’s certainties are Covid death and Francois Legault’s taxes on the unvaccinated. (Cartoon by Malcolm Mayes)
Life’s certainties are Covid death and Francois Legault’s taxes on the unvaccinated. (Cartoon by Malcolm Mayes) Malcolm Mayes

Kenney hypocritical on anti-vaxx tax, traffic court

Alberta’s health-care and judicial systems have large backlogs. The Edmonton Journal of Jan. 11, reported that Quebec is working on a new health-care tax for the unvaccinated in response to a backlog in that province, but that Alberta Premier Kenney is not considering a similar tax.

He apparently considers it a threat to the principle of universal health care. In an amazing reversal of logic, his government is preparing legislation to deny Albertans the right of being presumed innocent in traffic court and imposing a “fee” (tax) in order to defend oneself. Is one principle more valid than the other?

Harry Abbink, Edmonton 


Letters Welcome

We invite you to write letters to the editor. A maximum of 150 words is preferred. Letters must carry a first and last name, or two initials and a last name, and include an address and daytime telephone number. All letters are subject to editing. We don’t publish letters addressed to others or sent to other publications. Email: letters@edmontonjournal.com


Wednesday

Alberta reports record-breaking 6,789 news COVID-19 cases and 15 deaths Wednesday

Hamdi Issawi

The COVID-19 virus.
The COVID-19 virus. Photo by iStockphoto /Getty Images

Alberta broke another record for the number of new COVID-19 cases reported in one day as hospitalizations and deaths continue to climb.

On Wednesday, the province identified 6,789 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of active cases in Alberta to 61,229, which works out to 2,616 more cases than the day before.

Alberta also reported 748 patients hospitalized with the disease — 40 more than reported Tuesday — including 82 in intensive care while another 15 people died of COVID-19, raising the province’s death toll to 3,367.

In a series of tweets Wednesday, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, stressed the importance of reserving emergency room visits for urgent medical treatment while noting that exposure to an ER does not qualify someone for a PCR test under new provincial rules.

With the province’s test positivity rate hovering near 40 per cent, Hinshaw said Albertans should assume that the province is seeing at least 10 times more cases than it’s identifying with PCR tests, which have also been limited to certain groups due to increased strain on diagnostic capacity caused by spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant.

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Wednesday

Edmonton school boards continue to see increase in staff, student absences

Anna Junker

Students at Austin O’Brien High School go back to school on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, after their Christmas break was extended by a week due to the Omicron virus.
Students at Austin O’Brien High School go back to school on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, after their Christmas break was extended by a week due to the Omicron virus. Photo by Greg Southam /Postmedia

More than 1,000 teachers were absent Wednesday morning as Edmonton’s school boards grapple with the first week back to school during the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Edmonton Public Schools reported 525 teacher absences, up 31 from the previous day, spokeswoman Megan Normandeau said in a statement. However, she noted the numbers reflect all staff absences, not just those due to COVID-19 or general illness.

Twenty-seven of those absences were unfilled.

“This month, our division has hired an additional 29 temporary contract teachers to help fill emergent teacher jobs that are unfilled from the standard supply teacher pool,” Normandeau said.

“These 29 teachers have been deployed today to cover many of the 27 unfilled positions.”

There were also 297 absences among educational assistants, an increase of 35. Of those, 160 absences went unfilled.

“It is important to note that these numbers fluctuate throughout the day — absences unfilled this morning may have been filled for the afternoon,” Normandeau said.

“Any staff absences that are unfilled by supply staff would be managed internally at the school level.”

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Wednesday

Kenney says Alberta won’t follow Quebec plan to levy fee on COVID-19 unvaccinated

The Canadian Press

Premier Jason Kenney updates Alberta’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic during a press conference in Calgary on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. Photo by Gavin Young / Postmedia.
Premier Jason Kenney updates Alberta’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic during a press conference in Calgary on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. Photo by Gavin Young / Postmedia. SunMedia

Premier Jason Kenney says Alberta will not be following Quebec’s plan to impose a financial penalty on those who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Kenney says data shows the unvaccinated are proving to be a vastly greater burden on the hospital system than the vaccinated, but making them pay extra would not be fair.

“If we go down that road, we are completely rubbishing the whole principle of universality of health care, which is why Alberta absolutely will not follow the decision of Quebec,” Kenney said Tuesday night in a Facebook town-hall meeting.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault had announced earlier in the day that he plans to make unvaccinated adult residents pay a “significant” financial penalty, given that they are occupying a disproportionate number of beds in hospitals.

Kenney conceded the unvaccinated are taking up far more hospital and intensive care beds, which has led to a domino effect of cancelled surgeries as health workers are reassigned to deal with the pandemic.

But he said levying a fee would be akin to making a smoker pay more for lung cancer treatment or charging a high-risk skier for being injured and airlifted out of the back country.

“There is a larger and deeper principle here, which is we have a universal health-care system,” the premier said.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from, how old you are, what your medical condition is, how wealthy you are, or what life choices you’ve made. You are guaranteed access to our health-care system, free of cost, for medically necessary services.”

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Wednesday

Edmonton transit service temporarily cuts more than 330 weekday trips in response to driver shortage caused by COVID-19 spread

Dustin Cook

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The University of Alberta Transit Centre, is seen on Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. City police are investigating two separate “hate-motivated assaults” against Muslim women that took place Feb. 3, 2021.
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Edmonton’s transit service is temporarily cutting more than 330 weekday trips across many routes as a result of driver shortages due to the rising spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

The City of Edmonton announced the immediate changes adjustments Wednesday afternoon, just a day after the local transit union told Postmedia that not all the shifts were being filled and some trips were missed as a result. The city was trying to avoid service impacts by allocating overtime work to drivers.

In its last update Friday the city said there were 28 active cases of COVID-19 among transit operators, of which there are 1,700, but didn’t have updated numbers of those in isolation or off for other reasons.

The cut trips, across 63 routes, amount to about two per cent of the city’s bus service and were targeted on routes that have high-frequency service to minimize impact to riders as much as possible. Transit branch manager Carrie Hotton-MacDonald said weekend, LRT, on demand, DATS and regional service would continue as normal without any changes.

“The health and safety of our riders and staff remain our top priority and we understand changes to bus service may create challenges for some riders. This is top of mind and we are working to minimize any disruption to riders as much as possible,” she said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor the service closely and we thank riders for their patience and understanding.”

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Wednesday

More than 80 continuing care homes in Calgary zone on Alberta outbreak list

Dylan Short, Calgary

A caregiver is seen leaving the Carewest Royal Park community in the SW. Wednesday, January 12, 2022.
A caregiver is seen leaving the Carewest Royal Park community in the SW. Wednesday, January 12, 2022. Photo by Brendan Miller/Postmedia

More than 80 continuing-care homes in the Calgary region are currently in COVID-19 outbreak protocols as the Omicron variant continues to spread rapidly across Alberta.

The provincial outbreak list showed 31 long-term care homes and 52 supportive-living facilities listed in the Calgary zone as of Tuesday. Outbreaks are publicly reported when there are two or more cases linked to a facility.

Generations Calgary is among the long-term care centres on the list. Executive director Cindy Simpson said four staff members are isolating, but there is no staffing shortage.

“We’re following all the Alberta Health Services guidelines. We have gone back to the two designated support persons to visit, just to try and limit the number of people on the site,” said Simpson. “We are rapid testing our staff regularly, which has been the way we’ve detected most of our cases.”

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Wednesday

Student with health issues kept home after Calgary public school board refuses HEPA filter amid Omicron surges

Eva Ferguson, Calgary

Emiko Watanabe, 6, poses with her brother Ryan, 8, in a recent family photo. Ryan is very high needs, with severe allergies. Their doctor says he needs a HEPA filter in the classroom.
Emiko Watanabe, 6, poses with her brother Ryan, 8, in a recent family photo. Ryan is very high needs, with severe allergies. Their doctor says he needs a HEPA filter in the classroom. Photo by family photo

The mother of a student with complex medical needs and at risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 has been unable to convince public school officials to put a HEPA filter in his classroom.

And now, as cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant surge across the province and through school communities, Fuyo Watanabe is choosing to keep her son at home for fear he could become very sick.

“Families with disabled children, we’ve been doing all of this for a long time, using hand sanitizer, doing everything we can to make sure our kids don’t get sick,” she said.

“But this situation is just too much. It’s just not acceptable.”

Watanabe’s eight-year-old son Ryan attends Grade 3 at Emily Follensbee School, a unique Calgary Board of Education program for high-needs students, many of whom have complex medical issues. Ryan is deaf, blind, confined to a wheelchair and has several other health issues, including severe allergies that can impact his lungs and respiratory system.

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Wednesday

Quebec sees thousands sign up for first shot of COVID-19 vaccine as tax threat looms

Lynn Chaya, National Post

After plans to tax the unvaxxed were revealed on Tuesday by Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé, more than 7,000 people registered to receive their first COVID-19 vaccine dose since the announcement 24 hours ago.

“About 5K appointments were taken on January 10 and 7K yesterday, our record for several days,” Dubé tweeted this morning.

“107K doses administered yesterday,” he adds. “It’s encouraging!”

Dubé’s controversial announcement was echoed by Quebec Premier François Legault on the same day, stating “significant” penalties for those refusing vaccination for non-medical reasons.

Legault argues that Quebecers shouldn’t have suffer the consequences of a burdened health care network due to those choosing not to be vaccinated.

“It’s a question of equity because right now, these people are putting a very important burden on our health care network and I think it’s normal that the majority of the population is asking that there be a consequence,” he said.

The Premier shared a tweet depicting a graph by the Canadian Institute for Health Information explaining the cost of a COVID-19 patient in an intensive care unit.

“A COVID patient costs an average of $50K in intensive care,” the tweet said. “$43K more than a patient with heart problems.”

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Wednesday

Alberta’s restock of COVID-19 rapid tests to be delayed

Kellen Taniguchi

COVID-19 rapid test at her work in Calgary, Alberta on March 1, 2021.
COVID-19 rapid test at her work in Calgary, Alberta on March 1, 2021. Photo by Leah Hennel /AHS

The expected restock of rapid COVID-19 antigen test kits in Alberta has been delayed by the federal government and manufacturers, says the province’s top doctor.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw did not mention a specific reason for the delay or when the tests are expected to arrive and be distributed across Alberta when she made the announcement on Twitter Tuesday evening.

Alberta Health has learned that the expected supply of at-home rapid test kits has been delayed from the federal government and manufacturers. Alberta Health is working hard to obtain more supply as soon as possible. (3/6)

— Dr. Deena Hinshaw (@CMOH_Alberta) January 12, 2022

A Jan. 7 update on Alberta Blue Cross’ website said there are no rapid tests available at local pharmacies and Alberta Health has advised that additional supplies of rapid testing kits should be available to ship to pharmacies the week of Jan. 17. The site will be updated once more test kits become available.

The absence of rapid test kits in the province comes at a time where PCR testing capacity is overwhelmed, as Hinshaw announced further reduction of the list of people eligible for free PCR testing on Monday.

Alberta is now limiting PCR testing to those who live and work in high-risk settings, such as continuing care residents and health-care workers, as the Omicron variant continues to spread. The recommendation has been for the majority of Albertans to use rapid tests.

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Wednesday

‘We’ve never seen this kind of transmission before’: Omicron cases dwarf official reports across Canada

Tyler Dawson, National Post

Alberta Health Services staff conduct drive-through COVID-19 tests at the Richmond Road testing site in Calgary on December 30, 2021. Gavin Young/Postmedia
Alberta Health Services staff conduct drive-through COVID-19 tests at the Richmond Road testing site in Calgary on December 30, 2021. Gavin Young/Postmedia

With Omicron cases skyrocketing across Canada, figures from Alberta suggest that the official numbers, rolled out in data sheets and at press conferences, don’t capture the full extent of the fifth wave.

On Monday afternoon, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said that there are roughly 57,000 active COVID-19 cases in the province.

“We’ve never seen this kind of transmission before,” said Hinshaw, adding that anywhere you go, someone is likely to have COVID-19. “We can’t stop this, but we still can slow the spread.”

The actual figure for active cases in Alberta could be at least 10 times higher, Hinshaw said, shedding light on the extent to which Omicron is spreading, undocumented by the strained testing system.

“It’s very clear with a 40 per cent positivity rate, transmission is higher than it’s ever been before and we should assume that, at minimum, we’re seeing about 10 times or more the number of cases than we’re diagnosing through PCR,” Hinshaw said.

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