The growing number of COVID-19 variant cases in Alberta not linked to travel is concerning, the province’s chief medical officer of health said Tuesday.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw said roughly half of the variant cases where investigations have been completed have been linked to community cases where the source is unknown or a close contact of a community case.
“With that half that are overall community-acquired, about a third of those are those who we don’t necessarily have the source and about two-thirds are the result of our investigations around those cases to identify those close contacts to prevent further spread,” Hinshaw said.
Fifty new cases of COVID-19 variants were reported over the long weekend — 15 on Friday, 18 on Saturday, 10 on Sunday and seven on Monday. All were of the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom.
But Hinshaw said investigations into these newly reported cases have not yet been completed, so it is unknown which ones have been linked to travel.
There have been 221 cases of variants reported in Alberta, with 214 of those identified as the B.1.1.7 variant and seven of those identified as the B.1.351 variant first found in South Africa.
Hinshaw said there are three schools where there has been in-school transmission of variant cases. However, it is unknown which schools have variant cases. The province is not differentiating between the regular COVID-19 cases and the variants because “the risk does not seem to be any different within that school, whether it’s variant or not, so far in our experience,” she said.
To date, variant cases have been identified in a total of 15 schools.
There were 263 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday after about 5,200 tests were completed for a positivity rate of five per cent.
Hinshaw said this increase in positivity rate is concerning but it’s possible the number of people who went to get tested over the long weekend influenced this number.
“We will be watching closely in the days to come to see if this is an isolated finding or a concerning trend.”
There are 365 people in hospital, including 56 in intensive care units. Nine more deaths were also reported, raising the provincial death toll to 1,791.
As of Monday, 149,138 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered and 54,024 Albertans are fully vaccinated with two doses.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said vaccinations for 9,000 health-care workers who had to postpone their inoculation due to vaccine shortage are once again available.
“In the coming days, Alberta Health Services will be reaching out to eligible health-care workers to rebook their vaccination appointments. Everyone who is eligible should be able to book a time to receive their dose in the coming weeks, pending vaccine supply,” Shandro said in a statement.
During her update Tuesday, Hinshaw said the province is hoping to move quickly through the Phase 1A individuals and in the coming weeks move to Phase 1B with vaccinating community seniors.
“I know there has been keen interest in knowing exactly when that will start and exactly how people can book appointments,” Hinshaw said.
“I expect that information will be coming very soon so people know more detail about what to expect and how they’ll be able to access vaccine for seniors who are 75 and over.”