Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Thursday, March 31

EDITOR’S NOTE: Throughout the pandemic, case counts have been based on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing done by provincial bodies like Alberta Health Services, but those testing protocols have shifted to prioritize high-priority groups and people in higher risk settings. In Alberta there is no system for cataloguing at-home rapid antigen tests, meaning many people with COVID-19 aren’t reflected in the data.

As a result, CBC News will de-emphasize case counts in our coverage, in favour of data and metrics that experts now say are more illuminating — including hospitalizations and wastewater monitoring. 


The latest:

  • The government has now moved to a once-a-week reporting schedule set for each Wednesday. 
  • As of March 30, there were 964 people in hospital with COVID-19, up slightly from 956 last week, with 47 of those patients in ICU down from 56.
  • The province reported 30 new COVID-19 deaths between March 23 and March 30. A total of 4,612 Albertans have died of COVID-19.
  • Between March 23, which was the last time COVID-19 figures were reported, and Wednesday, the daily positivity rate fluctuated between 21.7 per cent and 27.1 per cent, with an average of 24.5 per cent — an increase from the 22 per cent average in the previous seven days. 
  • There were 4,612 new cases reported between March 23 and 30. The case count includes only those who test positive on a PCR test, which most Albertans can’t access.
  • Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping gave an update on COVID-19 in the province Wednesday. 
  • Wastewater surveillance data shows signs of rising transmission in Calgary and Edmonton, Copping said. 
  • Copping said it’s not surprising that COVID is spreading as the vast majority of public health measures in the province have been lifted. 
  • He hesitated to say if the province is looking at a sixth wave of COVID-19.
  • “There are simply more opportunities for the virus to spread,” he said.  
  • Starting April 1, any interested pharmacy in the province will be able to order the antiviral pill Paxlovid and distribute it to Albertans who meet the eligibility criteria. 
  • Copping also encouraged all Albertans to pick up rapid test kits. 
  • On March 23, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said the more transmissible Omicron subvariant, known as BA.2, is now the dominant strain of Omicron in the province

Wastewater monitoring:

The Y axis denotes the number of SARS-CoV2 RNA particles detected in each sample. The numbers show the first number multiplied by 10 to the power of the small number above. For example 2.1 x 10¹⁵ written out in full is 2,100,000,000,000,000 or 2.1 quadrillion RNA particles detected. (Rob Easton/CBC)

The Y axis denotes the number of SARS-CoV2 RNA particles detected per millilitre of wastewater. This chart should only be interpreted as a measure of progress against itself and not used to compare with other cities or measurement sites. (Rob Easton/CBC)

  • Wastewater readings in Alberta are trending up, indicating new COVID-19 infections are rising amid the Omicron subvariant BA.2 becoming the dominant strain of the disease in the province. Those higher readings mirror trends across Canada and a recent rise in global COVID-19 cases.
  • Alberta data from a dashboard created by the University of Calgary Centre for Health Informatics shows the average amount of COVID-19 detected in wastewater. The data is updated publicly three times per week. The virus is shed in peoples’ feces before symptoms arise, so values in the data associate strongest with cases occurring six days after the samples are collected.
  • Kevin Frankowski, the executive director of Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets (ACWA) at the University of Calgary, said the amount of virus circulating in the community is staying relatively high. “Based upon the wastewater numbers, it’s clear that COVID isn’t over yet. We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said. “It’s important to remain vigilant.”
  • A note on reading wastewater charts: Numbers taken from different wastewater treatment facilities use different testing and collection methods. Because of this, comparisons across cities cannot be made directly and one should assess only the trends. For example, there is an upward trend in the readings in both Edmonton and Calgary, but one cannot say whether levels are higher in one city or the other.

The latest on restrictions: 

  • Hundreds of Alberta health-care workers — on unpaid leave because they’re not immunized against COVID-19 — are expected back on the job by March 31, after the provincial government directed Alberta Health Services to lift its vaccine mandate.
  • Nearly all pandemic public health measures were lifted in the province as of March 1, as the Alberta government launched Step 2 of its reopening plan. 
  • This phase removes indoor masking, remaining school requirements, youth screening for entertainment and sports, removal of capacity limits on all large venues and entertainment venues, limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings lifted and mandatory work from home lifted. 
  • Masking is still required in high-risk settings including Alberta Health Services-operated and contracted facilities, all continuing care settings, and on municipal transit services. The rule does not cover private services such as taxis or Uber trips.
  • As of Feb. 14, there are no masking requirements for children and youth 12 years old and younger and no masking requirements for children and youth in schools for any age.
  • Stage 1 took effect Feb. 16 and removed the restrictions exemption program
  • Premier Jason Kenney says the province is working toward a third stage, which does not have a date, where people would no longer be required to isolate if they have COVID-19, and COVID operational and outbreak protocols will be lifted in continuing care facilities. 
  • Health Minister Jason Copping said the stages are all conditions-based approach, based on hospitalization trends. 

Vaccinations:

  • According to Alberta Health, 76.5 per cent of the province’s population — or 86.7 per cent of those older than 12 — have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. 
  • The province is not currently expanding eligibility for fourth doses, Hinshaw said. It is available only to those with significant immunocompromising conditions. Guidance for those who received an AstraZeneca vaccine remains the same as it does for others — it is not recommended to get an additional dose if people have already had a total of three doses of vaccine. 

Hospitalizations by region:

As of March 30, there were 964 Albertans in hospital.  

  • Calgary zone: 280.
  • Edmonton zone: 345.
  • Central zone: 135.
  • North zone: 113.
  • South zone: 91.




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