A graph showing how COVID-19 wastewater levels in Red Deer's system have been falling in recent weeks. (Graph from U of C, Cumming School of Medicine, Centre for Health Infomatics)

Alberta COVID-19 BA.2 variant peak has passed: health minister

Health officials keeping an eye on two new sub-variants BA. 4 and BA.5

The worst of the Covid-19 BA.2 wave has passed, but two new sub-variants have emerged, say Alberta health officials.

Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping said the average positivity rate from PCR tests is about 17.5 per cent, down from 20 per cent a week ago.

“Positivity rates have now been decreasing for the past month, which indicates there is less transmission,” said Copping in his weekly COVID update.

The virus is still around, especially in Edmonton and Calgary, and people should continue to ensure they are vaccinated and take other health precautions, he said.

“We can’t expect it to go to zero. It remains a real risk, especially to those unvaccinated or under-vaccinated.”

Copping said the number of patients being treated in intensive care is well within the former 173-ICU bed capacity, which has now been increased to 192, and is expected to be increased further to 223 beds.

The number of patients in regular beds being treated in hospital for COVID is also falling, especially in the smaller centres including Red Deer.

The BA.2 wave is falling faster in the smaller centres than in Calgary and Edmonton, he said. The number of patients in hospital in the five regional sites is lower than in the five Mays prior to COVID from 2015 to 2019.

As of May 23, there were 134 people being treated in Central Zone, including a single patient in intensive care.

There are 1,040 COVID patients in hospital, including 31 in ICU. In the previous week ending May 16, there were 1,165 people in hospital, including 42 in ICU.

However, the virus continues to take a toll. Fifty-five people died — including six in Central Zone — in the week ending May 23. In Alberta, 4,507 have died — 581 in Central Zone — from COVID implications since the pandemic began.

Health officials are keeping a close eye on two new Omicron variants, BA.4 and BA.5, which have appeared in several countries, said Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

“Available evidence suggests these sub-variants are more transmissible than earlier versions, which means they can spread more easily once they are in a community,” said Hinshaw.

Neither sub-variant appears to cause more severe illness, she added. The first case of BA.4 in Alberta was identified in the past week through ongoing surveillance.

“The appearance of new variants and sub-variants is not surprising. This is what viruses do. As we continue to live with COVID we can expect to see variants and sub-variants emerge.”

Hinshaw said the province has now identified three probable acute juvenile hepatitis cases. All have been treated and none required a liver transplant.

In Red Deer, the number of new COVID cases over the previous seven days ending on Monday was 57 — down 22 over the previous seven days. The seven-day case rate is down to 53.6 per 100,000 people, compared with 74.3 a week ago.

The total number of Red Deer cases since the pandemic began is now 15,093.

In Red Deer County, there were 17 new cases over seven days, down one from the seven days prior.

Sylvan Lake has had 10 new cases, Lacombe seven, Olds 12, Wetaskiwin 10, Camrose 18 and Drumheller five.

Lacombe County has had 11, Clearwater County four, County of Stettler two, Mountain View County four, Kneehill County 11 and Camrose County one.

On the local geographic area setting, Wetaskiwin County, including Maskwacis, has had 15 new cases, while Ponoka, including East Ponoka County, had seven and Rimbey, including West Ponoka County and part of Lacombe County, had none.

The next update will be provided in two weeks.



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