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New variant detected as Alberta reports 1,856 new COVID-19 cases

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the new variant is considered a variant of interest rather than a variant of concern, and that medical experts are still studying the transmissibility and mortality rate associated with it.
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Cases of COVID-19 continue to surge in Alberta as another 1,856 new cases were diagnosed overnight, 1,326 of which were variants.

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday a new variant, known as B.1.617, has been detected and is considered a variant of interest rather than a variant of concern, and that medical experts are still studying the transmissibility and mortality rate associated with it. It is not known yet if the virus is more infectious than the original strain of COVID-19, or if vaccines work effectively against it.

The variant was first found in Denmark and is the key driver in the rapidly spreading cases seen in India.

“We will work with colleagues across the country to monitor the latest findings on this variant as evidence emerges from around the world,” Hinshaw said.

“This variant was in a returning interprovincial traveller to Alberta, and no additional cases of this variant have been detected to date.”

Right now, around 60 per cent of the 19,182 active cases are variants.

Hospitalizations across the province continue to grow, with 518 Albertans in hospital, and 116 of them are in intensive care.

Hinshaw said hospitalizations are a lagging indicator and those in hospital now were likely infected two to three weeks ago. With active cases and new infections climbing, Hinshaw said more Albertans will be in the hospital in coming weeks.

"Given how high our leading indicators – growth rate, new cases and positivity rate – have been, we can expect to see this number grow in the coming days. We must bend this curve down to prevent these severe outcomes and the subsequent outcome on our health-care system."

In the past 24 hours, the province has run 17,500 tests with a positivity rate of 10.7 per cent.

“These are concerning numbers that underline the fact that we have work to do together,” Hinshaw said.

There are now active alerts or outbreaks in 612 schools, which represents 25 per cent of the schools across the province. A total of 3,502 cases have been linked to these schools since January 11.

Six new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the past 48 hours.

Immunocompromised get second shot

Albertans who are severely immunocompromised will now be able to book a second dose sooner than the rest of the population.

Anyone undergoing certain kinds of cancer treatment or who are taking medications that will give them a severe compromise to the immune system will now be given a second dose between 21 and 28 days after their initial shot.

Albertans who have received solid organ or stem cell transplants or who are currently undergoing immune-compromising treatments like chemotherapy will be eligible.

“This timeline applies to these individuals only due to their extremely weakened immune system,” Hinshaw said.

AstraZeneca

As of Tuesday, around 1.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been given out across the province with around one quarter of Albertans over the age of 16 having had their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Tuesday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updated Albertans on the vaccine rollout and announced that 82 per cent of Albertans over the age of 75 have been given their first dose of the vaccine.

“We're concerned about that 18 per cent of those seniors who are not yet vaccinated,” Kenney said on Tuesday

“If you know of a senior in that category who hasn't yet been vaccinated, please reach out and help them out that they might be folks who are stranded at home. They may not have transportation. They may not be aware of the program.”

Almost 73 per cent of people between the ages of 65 and 74 have now been vaccinated and around half of Albertans between 60 and 64 years have got at least one dose.

“These aren't just numbers. These are people who are now are more protected and less likely to end up suffering from this virus,” Kenney said.

On top of the doses given out, the premier said they believe around 10 per cent of the population has natural immunity to COVID-19 from suffering a previous infection from it.

Currently 2.3 million Albertans are eligible for their shot. As of Monday night, more than 107,000 doses of AstraZeneca have been administered, after the province opened up vaccine eligibility for the vaccine to Alberans over the age of 40.

During Tuesday's update, Kenney said the province had only 160,000 doses remaining and was not sure when the next round of doses would arrive.

“So if you're over the age of 40, I urge you to take advantage of this opportunity before the supply runs out,” Kenney said.

High vaccine uptake in long-term care settings has reduced the amount of infections dramatically, Hinshaw said, and show the power of vaccines.

The number of active cases in long term care facilities has decreased from 776 on Dec. 30 to just 37 on April 18.  Hospitalizations have decreased by about 93 per cent.

“That is the difference immunization makes. That is the power of vaccines,” Hinshaw said.

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