During a COVID-19 update on June 22, Jason Copping, health minister for the Government of Alberta, and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, announced the further de-escalation of COVID-19 response measures.
Copping said data collected from June 14 to 20 indicated a decline in both PCR-test positivity rates and wastewater levels, and all other indicators “continue to drop.”
He added the average PCR-positivity rate is 12.2 per cent, which is a 1.6 per cent decrease from the previous week and waste-water levels continue to trend downwards.
"As transmission has decreased, so too have our levels of hospitalizations,” Copping said.
On Feb. 26, the government announced they would be moving to step two of a transition away from COVID-19 public health measures. At the time, there were 12,095 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19.
According to Copping, as of this past Monday, there were 661 COVID-related hospitalizations in Alberta. That coincided with a further reduction in the province’s intensive care unit admissions, with 17 COVID patients reported in ICU as opposed to 88 in late February.
“We continue to follow the data and make the best decisions on public health measures that we can, balancing the risk from the virus with the burden of public health measures,” Copping said. “We’re entering a phase where the pandemic response can be de-escalated.
“We remain vigilant and prepared to respond to new variants that may drive another wave of cases and hospital admissions.”
Copping added the province’s ongoing COVID-19 response will enable the government to manage any future variants in a similar manner to the way other respiratory diseases are contained, to protect Albertans from severe outcomes, and limit pressure on the Alberta health care system.
Maintenance efforts include a surveillance program to monitor emerging threats, an optimized testing strategy to support early treatment for eligible Albertans, and the maintenance of a framework for implementing protective measures and outbreak response in high-risk settings when needed.
While masking is no longer required on public transportation and isolation for those who test positive is no longer mandatory, masking will continue to be required at all AHS and contracted health facilities through their own respective policies.
Similarly, other health-care providers including physician offices, pharmacies, and therapists may continue to advocate for masking as well, with individual policies.
Additionally, residents in continuing care facilities will remain a priority for the province, Copping said, with regards to administering additional booster does and antiviral treatments when eligible.
“Residents in continuing care facilities are among the most vulnerable to severe outcomes,” Copping said. “Protective policies will remain in place recognizing the risk of COVID-19 is not going away.
“These practices will help safeguard vulnerable residents from COVID-19 transmission in their residences.”
According to Copping, the vast majority of jurisdictions across Canada and around the world are moving in the same direction, opting to remove health restrictions.
“Despite these changes I want to reassure Albertans we are not forgetting about COVID-19 and its challenges,” he said. “We expect the return of other respiratory viruses this fall – surveillance testing and vaccination continue to be critical to our ability to deal with COVID-19.”
Copping said testing will still be available to those who are eligible and where it is needed to support public health interventions.
He said in the future, the government will need to equip the health care system to better manage the threat of future variants and viruses.
“We need to do much more than even before COVID-19 to improve access to care,” he said. “Not just to get back to normal – normal wasn’t good enough back then and we need to do better – we're making progress.”
According to Copping, the government is working towards opening additional ICU beds and garnering staff to facilitate a growing need for health care services in the province.
“We’re adding staff as fast as AHS and other employees can recruit them,” he said, acknowledging the system remains under real strain.
“We’ve never seen anything like this – the care deficit is real," he said. "It’s been a tough two years strengthening our health system and ultimately [making it] better than it was before COVID-19.”
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, said the province continues to monitor the spread of the Monkeypox virus, remarking there is one official case at the time of the press conference, with all confirmed cases to date located in Edmonton and Calgary zones.
She added the virus, which does not spread easily, poses relatively low risk to Albertans at this time. She urged anyone with a new or suspicious rash to avoid direct contact with others to limit the spread.
She said there are a variety of emotions felt by Albertans following the rescinding of public health measures and every response deserves to be heard.
“Together we have learned a great deal about this virus and by working together we will be better positioned,” she said. “We know our personal risk factors and steps to limit transmission and we have vaccines that are highly effective.
“While COVID-19 is still a risk, [we] continue to recommend Albertans monitor for symptoms. Stay home until you’re feeling better. There are other viruses like influenza circulating in our communities.
According to Hinshaw, the province will continue to monitor for data and variants in the coming months and information will be posted online for Albertans to use to make daily decisions about their own heatlh.
“I would like to end today by thanking all Albertans for following mandatory and recommended [public health measures],” Hinshaw said. “You have each played an essential role – continue to protect one another in the weeks and months ahead.”