Premier Jason Kenney has provided a timeline for when Albertans will learn whether more public health measures used to address the spread of COVID-19 will be lifted early next month.
“On Saturday, Feb. 26, the government will announce a final decision about proceeding to Phase 2 of our plan to lift almost all restrictions on March 1,” Kenney tweeted Monday evening, saying it will be a “prudent decision based on the latest data.”
The premier wrote there is “encouraging data” showing a “steep drop” in the Omicron variant wave of the pandemic.
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“Pressure on our hospitals is declining,” he wrote, continuing the province’s messaging of “learning to live with COVID-19.”
Monday was the Family Day statutory holiday in Alberta, and no COVID-19 data from the weekend was made available to the public.
Alberta Health data released on Friday showed 1,494 people with COVID-19 were in Alberta hospitals, down from 1,605 a week before. But hospitalizations involving patients with COVID-19 have not been below the same level since Jan. 24 and haven’t been below 1,000 since Jan. 15.
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The rate of new hospitalizations appears to have reached its peak in all Alberta Health Services zones, according to the province’s COVID-19 statistics portal.
On Feb. 15, 121 COVID-19 patients were in ICUs and 83 non-COVID patients were in ICUs. That sum translated to 118 per cent of baseline ICU capacity in the province.
Because of the amount of time it takes COVID-19 to progress into severe disease, hospitalizations and ICU admissions have been a lagging indicator of the amount of virus in the community.
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PCR testing has been restricted through much of the last two months, and Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw previously said the number of new and active cases being reported do not reflect the true amount of people sick with COVID-19. She said case numbers could be 10 times what is reported.
That has left wastewater testing for SARS-CoV-2 particles as a key method for surveilling COVID-19 in Alberta.
The past few weeks have seen a downward trend, according to wastewater surveillance.
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But data from the University of Calgary’s Centre for Health Informatics appears to show the communities of Taber, Drumheller and Canmore having upward swings for a week or longer.
And wastewater numbers in Calgary have been creeping up in the last week after a month-long drop.
If approved, Step 2 of the province’s plan to lift public health measures would see any remaining school-related measures lifted, venue capacity limits ended, limits on social gatherings removed, the provincial mask mandate scrapped and the mandatory work-from-home order rescinded.
According to a government news release issued on Feb. 8, Step 3 would remove COVID-specific measures in continuing care and see isolation for positive cases become a recommendation rather than a requirement. That step would be taken “based on hospitalization rates continuing to trend downwards.”
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The Alberta legislature reconvenes Tuesday with a speech from the throne. Finance Minister Travis Toews will table the provincial budget on Thursday.
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