Variants become dominant in new COVID-19 cases in Alberta

Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw provides an update on the COVID-19 situation in the province on April 8, 2021.

Variants of concern are the dominant strains of new COVID-19 cases in Alberta, the chief medical officer of health said Thursday.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said 99 per cent of the variant cases in Alberta are the B.1.1.7 variant, first discovered in the U.K.

“With that in mind, effective today we will begin offering testing twice to close contacts of all confirmed cases, regardless of what kind of COVID strain they may have been exposed to,” Hinshaw said.

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The second test is designed to help capture anyone who took a first test during their incubation period and could be infectious after they leave their quarantine period.

“That double test helps us with an additional layer of security around all close contacts of again, all of our cases from today going forward,” she said.

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Alberta’s top doctor also made adjustments to the home isolation requirements for people who test positive for COVID-19.

“We will continue to strongly encourage all new COVID cases to isolate away from other household members in isolation hotels or other appropriate separate accommodation,” Hinshaw said, noting that a separate bedroom and separate bathroom would suffice.

“If a case has a separate bedroom and separate bathroom, and remains completely separated from the rest of their household for their infectious period, we will consider the 14-day quarantine period for household contacts to begin on the last day of contact with the case.”

On Thursday, Hinshaw announced 1,429 new cases of COVID-19 were detected in the past day. Of those, 717 — or just less than half — were variants. Variant cases account for about 45 per cent of active COVID-19 cases in the province.

Alberta’s testing positivity rate was 9.4 per cent.

Hinshaw said three variant strains are in Alberta: the U.K. variant, the B.1.351 variant originally detected in South Africa, and the P.1 variant originally found in Brazil.

Hinshaw said the new variants are easier to spread and often have worse outcomes, noting the U.K. variant is about 50 per cent more transmissible and the Brazil variant can spread twice as quickly.

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“The B.1.1.7 variant seems to be able to cause more severe illness than our original strain,” Alberta’s top doctor said, citing international data. “At this point it’s not clear if the other two variants also have increased severity or if some of the severe outcomes being reported in countries where they are the dominant strain are due to the high burden of disease because of how infectious they are.”

Hospitalizations increased to 340 provincewide, and 83 people are in ICU. Alberta Health said cases involving variants represent about 34 per cent of all hospitalizations.

Three new deaths were reported on Thursday. Two people died in the past day, health officials said, including a woman in her 60s in the Edmonton zone and a man in his 80s in the Calgary zone. A man in his 70s in the Edmonton zone died on Jan. 20, and his death was added to Thursday’s list. That brings the total number of Albertans who have died of COVID-19 to 2,005.

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The chief medical officer also announced that more than 779,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the province.

“Also, starting tomorrow morning, Albertans between the ages of 55 and 64 can book appointments for the AstraZeneca vaccine, through Alberta Health Services,” she said. “Doses of this vaccine will be available at clinics in Edmonton and Calgary.”

Hinshaw said the vaccine is effective against the original and the most common variant strain in Alberta — the U.K. variant.

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“Vaccines seem to have a somewhat lower effectiveness against infection with the B.1.351 variant, although they still may provide protection against severe outcomes. For P.1., evidence is mixed, and it isn’t clear whether there will be a vaccine effectiveness impact.”

Alberta’s top doctor said the prescription hasn’t changed in preventing spread of COVID-19.

“The answer is not new, but it is more important than ever: limit your time in contact with other people, especially indoors.”

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