Up to 30 per cent of scheduled surgeries will be postponed in the Edmonton, Calgary and North Zones in order to increase capacity for COVID-19 hospitalizations, Alberta Health Services announced Tuesday.
The change is effective immediately and will occur over the next two weeks. Some non-urgent procedures and ambulatory appointments will also be reduced.
“These changes will allow our hospitals to expand inpatient beds if necessary and create more capacity for COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization,” the health authority announced on Twitter.
“It’s important to note that provincially, we have never dipped below 88 per cent of surgical volume throughout the pandemic.”
Procedures that are postponed will be rebooked as soon as possible. Only affected patients will be contacted, AHS said.
“AHS currently has adequate capacity for both hospitalized and ICU patients. We are able to increase the number of ICU spaces if demand on ICU increases (as we did in November and December),” AHS said.
As of Tuesday, 635 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, an increase of 19 since Monday. Of those, 143 are in intensive care units, a decrease of two.
Meanwhile, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced Tuesday that close contacts of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases will now only be offered one test.
On April 8, the province announced it would provide close contacts two tests as a means to catch new cases quickly — one when individuals are first notified and the second 10 days after their last exposure. But now, Hinshaw said reverting back to only offering the first test is to ensure testing wait times are kept as low as possible. The change is effective immediately.
“If they experience symptoms at any point after that first test, they can get tested again,” Hinshaw said. “Otherwise, they must remain in quarantine until 14 days have passed and as of today, are no longer requested to have a second test.”
She is asking anyone with a second test currently booked to cancel it in order to free up capacity in the system. However, someone with symptoms and a second test currently booked can keep that appointment.
Alberta reported 1,539 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, after 13,743 tests were completed over the last 24 hours for a positivity rate of about 11 per cent. Active cases in the province stand at 20,721.
There were 812 new cases of variants identified Tuesday, representing about 63 per cent of all active cases in the province.
Seven more deaths were reported. However, following further review, 14 deaths previously included in the death toll have now been determined that COVID-19 was not a contributing cause and have been removed from the total.
The death toll now stands at 2,067 people.
Hinshaw said the R-value, or the reproductive rate of the virus, for the province is 1.04. This includes 1.1 in the Edmonton Zone, 0.98 in the Calgary Zone, and 1.05 for the rest of the province.
“It’s good to see the growth rates have declined, especially the decline from 1.6 to 0.98 for Calgary,” Hinshaw said. “But our numbers are still very high and it’s important to underline that cases are still growing, especially in Edmonton. Simply put, we are still heading in the wrong direction.”
The city of Edmonton currently has 4,021 active cases or, 387.4 per 100,000 people.
Despite the high case rates, Hinshaw did not indicate whether the province would consider tighter measures.
“My observation has been that for rules to be effective, you need to both have rules in place and people following the rules,” she said.
“And we have worked very hard throughout the course of the pandemic to balance the restrictions in place and the impacts they have with the impacts of COVID-19.”
She added the impacts of COVID-19 is having right now, as well as the potential impacts of new restrictions need to be thought through.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association on Tuesday said there needs to be more measures in place for controlling COVID-19 in schools.
Significant concerns remain for the ATA with community COVID-19 cases impacting schools, an inadequate supply of substitute teachers and teachers and school staff not yet prioritized for vaccinations.
ATA president Jason Schilling is calling on the government to implement a triage system for schools, where if some are closed due to COVID-19 cases, others are bolstered with enhanced safety measures and supports, while the rest operate as usual.
“With only about 45 days remaining in the school year, government must take significant steps immediately to protect the viability of in-person learning,” Schilling said in a news release.
“Alberta has now surpassed more than 20,000 active cases of COVID-19, with the majority of these cases being variants of concern. By the end of the week, we will have more people in ICU — a lagging indicator — than we did at the peak in December.
“The virus has adapted, and yet the government’s plan to protect students and staff largely has not.”
Students in Grades 7-12 at Edmonton Public and Edmonton Catholic schools are currently learning online due to the high number of COVID-19 cases in the community.