There will be no more regular scheduled COVID-19 news conferences, Alberta’s health chief said Wednesday.
The severity of the Omicron wave has been slowly declining for weeks. The provincial government changed its COVID-19 updates with Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Health Minister Jason Copping from a weekly event to every other week.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Hinshaw announced that it would be the last regular scheduled COVID update.
“We remain committed to the transparent communication of important public health information, and we will, of course, provide updates as needed,” she said.
Alberta Health will continue to update public COVID-19 data every week, she said.
Upcoming changes to how public health officials monitor COVID-19, which is supposed to make things more sustainable, will affect the public data dashboard later this summer, Hinshaw said.
By the fall, Alberta Health will change its COVID reporting to match its flu dashboard, which shows how the two respiratory diseases spread, she added.
Stopping regular personal updates is part of this transition, Hinshaw said.
“We are entering a phase of the pandemic where our response may be de-escalated while remaining vigilant and ready to respond to new variants that could drive another wave of cases and hospitalizations,” Copping said Wednesday.
Last week, Alberta dropped mandatory public health restrictions, except for some measures in Alberta Health Services facilities and other health facilities.
Public health orders for continued care facilities will be lifted on June 30, Copping said, but protection policies will remain in place as part of operating standards.
Alberta Health Services will monitor outbreaks in higher risk settings and respond as needed, he said.
Later this summer, some AHS test sites will be transformed into grafting sites that will be integrated with other services, Copping said.
Hinshaw noted that living with COVID-19 does not mean that it disappears, but that the province has the tools at its disposal to lift public health restrictions.
COVID-19 vaccines are one of those tools, she added. Hinshaw urged Albertans to get their initial vaccine doses (if they have not already done so), and booster doses when eligible.
Provincial data suggests the government may step down with public health measures, said Noel Gibney, professor emeritus at the University of Alberta in intensive care. But he hopes restrictions will come back if there is a new increase driven by new varieties.
“Public health and medical science are telling us that this pandemic is not going to behave as we hoped it would,” Gibney said.
Being prepared to reintroduce restrictions would show that the Alberta government wants to keep the public safe, and it recognizes that hospitals have been under pressure during massive increases, Gibney said.
He said that given the low level of testing, Alberta could be in the middle of an increase when data shows that one has taken place.
13 more Albertans die of COVID-19
Alberta public health officials identified 13 more COVID-19 deaths from June 14 to 20, the most recent reporting week.
A total of 4,604 Albertans have now died from the disease since the pandemic began.
Meanwhile, there were fewer Albertans in the hospital with COVID-19 than in the previous reporting week.
As of Monday, 661 people were treated at the hospital, including 17 patients who received critical care.
There were 719 admissions, including 19 intensive care unit patients, a week ago.
The seven-day PCR test positivity dropped to 12.32 percent in the most recent reporting week. Last week, the seven-day test positivity rate was around 13.2 percent.
There were 1,086 new COVID-19 cases identified through PCR testing in the most recent reporting week – nearly 400 fewer than the previous week.
The amount of virus circulating in society is thought to be higher because most Albertans cannot access PCR tests and the data preclude positive rapid test results.
Of Alberta’s entire population, including those who are not eligible, 77.3 percent of the population has two doses of COVID-19 vaccine; 81.5 percent of the population has at least one dose.
Dr. Lynora Saxinger, a specialist in infectious diseases from the University of Alberta, said she is concerned that the forthcoming reporting changes may promote the misconception that the pandemic is over, especially given the high levels of transmission.
“There’s a balance to be found there,” Saxinger said.
“Some people are like, ‘Absolutely, do all the same things we used to do,’ and I’m not sure that’s quite right. On the other hand, we have people like, ‘It’s over, we do not once have to think about it more, ‘and that’s not true either. “
Another case of monkey pox identified
A new case of monkey pox has been reported in Alberta, Hinshaw said.
The person is an adult and they are linked to another case of monkey pox reported outside the province, she said, adding that the risk of infection in Alberta is low.
A total of five cases have now been found in Alberta. all from reported in Calgary and Edmonton health zones, she said.