COVID-19: What comes after Alberta's third wave of the pandemic?

Daily COVID-19 case counts in Alberta have reached a plateau — signaling cautious optimism on the horizon in the fight against the novel coronavirus. As Morgan Black reports, one Edmonton doctor says the “fourth” wave of COVID-19 will present an entirely new challenge.

Alberta’s third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is starting to bend in the right direction.

That’s according to Dr. Noel Gibney, the co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s strategic COVID-19 pandemic committee. Gibney said Alberta is moving closer to the ebb of the latest wave.

“I think certainly when we look at the new cases, those numbers have declined consistently,” he said. “Almost more importantly, we are starting to see the percentage positivity rate go down as well.”

Gibney said that suggests we are seeing less transmission of COVID-19 and the public health measures put in place are starting to have an effect.

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“However, we are still having a problem with our ICU cases. The rate of increase has slowed but it hasn’t stopped,” Gibney said.

ICU numbers are a lagging indicator, Gibney explained. Initially, we see case numbers go up, followed by the rise of hospitalizations 10 to 14 days later. About a week later, the province sees the increase of ICU numbers.

“I expect that ICU numbers will creep up until we are sure the hospital numbers are stable,” Gibney said.

Alberta recently hit a daily vaccine record, providing more than 66,000 people the shot. As of Sunday, about 40 per cent of the population has received one dose of the vaccine.

“What I’m hoping we might see as a consequence of vaccination is a more rapid decline in cases,” he said.

The doctor cautions that the timing of Alberta’s reopening will play into the trajectory of the third wave.

“One of the challenges to date in terms of how the pandemic has been managed in this province is that we’ve always tended to shut down a bit too late and open a bit too early,” he said.

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Gibney noted that a new challenge will soon present itself: dealing with the consequences of COVID-19 for “long haulers,” the population of people who face long-term impacts after being diagnosed.

“About 10 per cent of people who get COVID-19, even mild cases, go to develop significant ongoing problems,” he said. “Typically, a loss of energy, aches and pains and difficulty breathing.”

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Gibney said he is encouraged by the number of research clinics opening in Alberta, including one at the University of Alberta.

“I think there needs to be a lot more research done to know how to treat these people,” he said. “These people could be suffering for months or even years. Economically, these people could be contributing to Alberta’s economic recovery. It’s important to get them back to health.

“People have had a chance to catch their breath. Now we can say, ‘How do we manage the thousands of people who need care as a consequence of the pandemic?'”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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