On Jan. 13, the number of active COVID-19 cases climbed to 100 in Westlock County, where a total of eight people have now died as a result of the virus.
The province’s geospatial map, which tracks COVID-19 cases identified through testing in municipalities throughout Alberta, indicated yesterday that a total of 67 active cases have been identified in Athabasca County and another 58 active cases have been identified in the County of Barrhead.
That means there are more than 200 active cases of COVID-19 throughout the Town & Country This Week readership area.
Incidentally, a total of five County of Barrhead residents and three Athabasca County residents have died since the start of the pandemic. Adding in the eight deaths from Westlock County, the local number of fatal illnesses now stands at 16.
This comes at the same time that the number of active cases throughout Alberta hit an all-time record of 62,733 cases, as identified through lab-performed PCR testing.
“This is the highest number of active cases that we have identified in Alberta at any time during COVID, and we know that these numbers only represent a fraction of the actual spread that’s been happening in the province,” said Premier Jason Kenney, during a Jan. 13 press conference.
Kenney said this is because the sharp and continued rise of the Omicron variant has pushed demand for testing beyond the province’s capacity, which means Alberta has had to adjust eligibility to ensure that people most at risk can receive PCR tests.
“I know this is disappointing to many people who would like to get the certainty of a PCR test, but it is absolutely necessary given the nature of Omicron,” he said, adding that Alberta is not the only jurisdiction that has had to adjust its approach to testing.
Kenney said this is why rapid tests have been made widely available, noting that every Albertan is now eligible to receive a free five-test kit every two weeks.
That's on top of 4.85 million rapid tests already distributed to pharmacies and health sites since December, along with nine million rapid antigen tests distributed to high-priority organizations like homeless shelters.
Unfortunately, the federal government informed the province earlier this week that some of the rapid tests they have procured will be arriving later than expected, Kenney said.
“Regrettably, this delay will affect the timing of rapid test shipments for some schools. But schools have now received about 58 per cent of the initial supply of tests, and as soon as we receive additional tests, we’ll get the remaining 42 per cent allocated, re-packaged and re-distributed,” Kenney said.
The province’s plan to distribute 10 million medical-grade masks and millions of rapid test kits to schools was one of the reasons the Alberta government decided to push forward with the return of in-person learning for K-12 students on Jan. 10.
“We understand just how important it is for kids to return to school, to learn in-person and to interact with their friends and their classmates. In fact, when the world looks back on the COVID era, I think it will be clear that one of the biggest mistakes was widespread school closures,” Kenney said, referencing studies that have shown the detrimental effects of at-home learning on K-12 education.
Kenney acknowledged that student and staff absences have resulted in some grades being shifted to at-home learning, but only in a small number of school authorities. Only two schools throughout Alberta have had to request a complete shift to at-home learning, he added.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw also reported on Jan. 13 that there are 786 Albertans hospitalized from COVID-19, including 79 in the ICU.
Hinshaw warned that even if the percentage of Albertans who have been hospitalized is small in proportion to the total number of cases, that can still result in a high number of hospitalizations.
“Omicron is so transmissible that the rapidly-increasing number of cases could get to a point where more people than any previous wave would need to be admitted to care in hospital,” Hinshaw said, urging Albertans to continue taking the measures that reduce infection and spread, like reducing in-person interactions and avoiding crowded indoor spaces.
Kenney also urged the public not to be fooled by COVID-deniers pointing to a high number of vaccinated individuals currently in hospital as proof that vaccines don’t work.
“The vaccines are doing … what they are supposed to do, which is to prevent severe symptoms and outcomes,” he said, noting that more than 70 per cent of ICU patients are unvaccinated.
On that note, Kenney said that more than 1.2 million third doses have been administered to Albertans over the age of 13.
“I have to say, I really would like to see that number higher,” Kenney said. “We seem to have … faster demand and enthusiasm for the first and second doses than we have for these booster shots. The data is telling us that these booster shots are very powerful additional protection against Omicron.”