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BA.2 variant now the predominant COVID strain in Alberta: Hinshaw

Approximately 60 per cent of all COVID-19 cases identified through PCR testing in the province are the Omicron variant BA.2, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Wednesday. However there is no evidence that it causes more severe outcomes, despite a higher transmission rate.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on March 23 that the Omicron variant BA.2 is now the predominant strain of COVID in the province. Stock photo.

Alberta had it's first weekly COVID-19 update Wednesday, presenting data from the last four days. 

Dr. Deena Hinshaw addressed the BA.2 variant of Omicron, which has been making headlines as of late. 

She said it's important to remember that many viruses mutate. 

Every PCR test completed in the province is screened for variants of concern, Hinshaw said. As of March 21, approximately 60 per cent of all positive tests were BA.2. 

"It is now the dominant strain of Omicron in the province," she said. "Although inherently more transmissible than BA.1, there is no evidence of it causing more severe disease than BA.1, based on clinical data from South Africa, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ontario." 

Hinshaw said we should expect to see transmission numbers trending upward in the weeks ahead. 

"Those at risk of severe outcomes should revisit their precautionary measures," she said while adding that individuals who have not received their booster dose should do so as soon as possible, especially those that are older than 65 and high risk. 

Hinshaw said that the most vital statistic at the moment, the positivity rate, has sat at an average of 23.5 per cent from Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. 

On average, five Albertans died each day of that time period, she added. The ages of the individuals reported were between 54 and 94. 

"This is a reminder that this infection is still a significant threat to many if us, our families and our friends," said Hinshaw. "It's important to take this seriously as we move into activities we haven't done in a while and consider how best to support those around us to mitigate the risks." 

Moving forward, she said that data reported on Wednesdays will be from the last seven days. 

Currently there are 956 people in hospital with the virus and 56 requiring intensive care. 

Minister of Health Jason Copping said that hospitalization numbers continue to drop "slowly but surely." 

"Our health system continues to recover from the fifth wave of COVID," he said. 

According to Copping, outbreaks in hospitals have fallen significantly since the peak in mid-February, where 38 acute-care facilities reported outbreaks. As of March 21, 11 facilities were reporting outbreaks. 

He added that the province has returned to near-normal surgery volumes and that the wait-list is considered to be stable at 76, 350, compared to about 78,400 at the beginning of February. 

Copping said prior to the pandemic in February 2020, the wait list sat at approximately 68,000. At the peak of the pandemic, there were more than 81,000 Albertans waiting for surgery. 

However, there is still room for improvement. 

"The current list is too long, we need to get it down and we're working on doing that," he said. 

Hinshaw also addressed questions surrounding the expansion of fourth doses to those that received their booster months ago. She said at this time, provincial and national bodies advise that fourth doses only be given to those with significant immunocompromising conditions who had a primary series with three doses. 

"Our data from the fifth wave showed that three doses in other groups continued to provide a high level of protection against severe outcomes," Hinshaw said. 

There were also also questions about individuals who received AstraZeneca as their first dose followed by mRNA, and whether or not those people should receive a fourth shot if they received their booster more than five months ago. Hinshaw said at this time that is not necessary. 

"Regardless of what variant or sub variant is most prevalent in Alberta, we know that we have tools at our disposal that have served us well over the past two years," she said, once again highlighting the importance of vaccines. 

Hinshaw also said that there are a "substantial" amount of rapid tests available at pharmacies in the provinces. She recommended picking up a few boxes to keep on hand if someone in the home feels unwell. Good practice is to take two tests, 24 hours apart when feeling under the weather, and to stay home and away from others until symptoms dissipate. 

"I know we all wish we could forget about COVID-19 completely, but unfortunately, it will be with us for a long time to come." 

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