Omicron tsunami limits PCR testing to high-risk people: Hinshaw

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“The demand for PCR testing has pushed our test system beyond its capacity,” Hinshaw said.

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A tidal wave of Omicron COVID-19 infections – which is likely 10 times the number of known cases – has prompted the province to limit PCR testing to high-risk people and environments, said Monday Alberta’s best doctor.

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The highly infectious variant has exceeded the province’s normal testing capacity and those who fall outside the most vulnerable categories should cancel their tests if they are already booked, said Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, the Dr Deena Hinshaw.

“The demand for PCR testing has pushed our testing system beyond its capacity,” she said, adding that those without high-risk conditions will be turned back to testing sites from now on. .

People still eligible for PCR testing include acute care or continuing care workers, hospital patients with symptoms, unimmunized people aged 55 or older, or people with chronic health conditions.

She said this approach has been taken by other provinces facing increased pressure from the Omicron variant.

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The changes come as those PCR tests recorded 17,577 new COVID-19 infections with a 39% positivity rate from Jan. 7 to 9 – a number, Hinshaw says, likely only captures a tenth of the new cases, count given pressure on testing and often mild symptoms.

If this is true, instead of the 57,332 active cases currently on record, the actual number would be over 570,000 infections, or about 13% of Alberta’s population.

It comes at a time when the province is asking Albertans to rely more on rapid home antigen testing, which many people still struggle to obtain.

Steele Grasza has the COVID-19 test kits he picked up from Northwest Pharmacy on Monday, December 20, 2021.
Steele Grasza has the COVID-19 test kits he picked up from Northwest Pharmacy on Monday, December 20, 2021. Photo by Azin Ghaffari / Postmedia

Hinshaw said despite these seemingly less severe physical signs, hospitals across the province are bracing for a much larger impact than seen in recent weeks as the weight of the absolute number of infections now begins to be felt.

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There are now at least 635 COVID-19 patients in hospital, including 72 in intensive care – an increase of 131 and eight respectively since last Thursday.

“It’s very clear that the cases are higher than they’ve ever been and it’s clear that our hospitalizations are starting to increase,” Hinshaw said.

“We need to prepare for major impacts. “

Hospitals in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick are struggling to cope with the influx of patients induced by Omicron and are considered to be a few weeks ahead of Alberta in this trend.

The most recent figure from Alberta Health Services on infections among staff shows 5,427 active cases among them, out of a total workforce of nearly 109,000.

“We have never seen this type of transmission before and in all sectors of the workforce, especially in the health care sector where the pressures of increasing visits to emergency departments and admissions are being observed, ”she said.

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It’s also why the province recently reduced the isolation time from 10 to five days for fully vaccinated workers who tested positive for COVID-19.

Hinshaw could not say why the province did not release its two-week forecast for the impact of COVID-19 on hospitals.

“I don’t know if any decisions were made during the public broadcast, so I don’t know if that decision was made,” she said.

The UCP government has not significantly tightened restrictions since the start of the Omicron wave, although on Monday Hinshaw said Albertans should take the variant “seriously.”

She also said that “the decisions about the restrictions are not mine.”

Albertans deserve better when it comes to transparency, said NDP health critic David Shepherd.

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“I am extremely concerned that we have not seen the Minister of Health join in today’s update to provide the essential information Albertans need to make informed decisions regarding COVID- 19, and we didn’t see the Minister of Education providing an update on the first day of school. across the province, ”said Shepherd.

“Albertans cannot trust UCP as they continue to shirk responsibility and refuse to provide essential public health information. They need to release the AHS two-week forecast and stop hiding the truth from Albertans. “

He noted that many Albertans still cannot acquire a rapid test for home use, saying many feel “abandoned” by the provincial government.

Hinshaw said, “We are working hard to make rapid tests more widely available. “

The UCP government has said it plans to distribute millions more tests in the coming weeks, including those the province purchases from private sources.

Meanwhile, six more people have died from COVID-19 since the end of last week, bringing the total number of deaths to 3,344.

One of them, who died last Thursday, was a person under the age of 18 with pre-existing conditions, Alberta Health said.

[email protected]

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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