Alberta COVID-19 numbers show steady rise, but not hitting rates of previous seasons

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Although the virus is not hitting nearly as hard as it did previous seasons, all measures of COVID-19 in Alberta are trending upwards as the province’s respiratory illness season ramps up.

In an update late Thursday evening, Alberta Health reported 361 patients were in hospital due to COVID-19 as of last Saturday, including 13 in intensive care units. That’s a rise from 336 the previous week, and 279 as of Sept. 30, according to the Health Ministry.

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Lynora Saxinger, infectious disease expert at the University of Alberta, told Postmedia that while hospitals are not full of critically ill people, as they were during the 2021 Delta wave, now “everything has been rising” since the end of August.

“In some cases we remain in a relatively reasonable-looking zone compared to prior years, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a burden when our hospital system is already pretty stretched and full,” she said, adding it doesn’t take much to create challenges, including with isolation requirements, bed capacity and flow.

“It’s not like the sky is falling, but the trend is telling us that it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” said Saxinger, who added that with more transmission, there are more severe outcomes in the hospital, particularly among the vulnerable.

More than 80 per cent of hospital admissions due to COVID-19 this year have been in those aged 60 years and older, according the province’s numbers.

Previously, the government’s public respiratory dashboard didn’t clearly differentiate how many people were being treated in hospital with COVID-19. Instead, it offered data on how many people were being admitted to hospitals. From Oct. 1 to 7 there were 145 COVID-19 hospital admissions, and 742 admissions throughout the entire respiratory virus season, which the province marks as beginning Aug. 27.

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The province’s latest update put that total number at 967 hospital admissions this season, including 46 patients sent to ICUs. Of those, the Edmonton zone has been hit the hardest so far, with 403 hospital admissions, 24 in the ICU, and 34 deaths.

However, Alberta Health now only counts a case when someone is admitted because of the disease, or if it’s a contributing factor. A total of 78 people have died due to COVID-19 this season, with seven new deaths counted in the most recent update.

While Alberta Health no longer does broad testing, the bump in test positivity rates to 17.8 per cent from 16.9 per cent the previous week does track with other factors that are increasing, even though it doesn’t tell you how many cases there truly are, Saxinger said.

By mid-October last year, provincial data indicated that there had been more than 1,000 patients with COVID-19 in hospital every day since Sept. 25, a stretch of 22 days — although how some data is differentiated and shared now differs significantly from then.

During the height of the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in November 2021, there were more than 1,000 people hospitalized with COVID, and 15,000 surgeries had to be cancelled to accommodate sick people who needed care.

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This season, the latest Alberta Health Services (AHS) numbers, published Tuesday, put intensive care unit capacity across the province at 78 per cent, including surge capacity. Of 223 open beds, 175 were occupied.

As of Tuesday, AHS announced outbreaks of COVID-19 at 19 acute-care facilities across the province, including in the Edmonton zone at the University of Alberta Hospital, Alberta Hospital, Royal Alexandra Hospital, Misericordia Community Hospital, Grey Nuns Community Hospital, and the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.

Enhanced masking protocols had been initiated at all of those hospitals, as well as the Stollery Children’s Hospital, which is co-located with the University of Alberta Hospital, and the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, as of Monday’s latest update from AHS.

While Alberta’s dashboard only includes wastewater data going back to July, the Public Health Agency of Canada’s latest published data on COVID-19 in wastewater measured from the Edmonton Gold Bar treatment plant described the viral load as “moderate and increasing,” but nowhere near peaks seen in May, last January and the spring of 2022.

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