By Nikki Jamieson
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Alberta will gradually bring COVID-19 measures in-line with other respiratory diseases by fall.
Vaccines help reduce the risk of severe outcomes and rates of infection, even if cases start to rise, and now more than 75 per cent of eligible Albertans having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and more than 64 per cent are now fully immunized.
In a recent media release July 28, the province announced it will start taking steps to make sure it can support all patients, including those with COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses, like influenza, which health officials expect to increase this year.
This will include bringing measures such as quarantine and isolation requirements for COVID-19 in-line with those used for influenza and other viruses. Testing for severe cases, provincial monitoring, outbreak management in high-risk settings and other key measures will continue to remain in place.
Health officials will also be able to adapt as needed if hospitalizations due to COVID-19 spike in the future.
“Our health system will keep protecting Albertans who are exposed to COVID-19 — while also ensuring we are able to handle all other viruses and illnesses. As the majority of us are vaccinated against COVID-19, we are adapting to make sure the health system is ready to care for all Albertans, whatever their illness. Please get vaccinated to help protect your health and the health of those around you,” stated Tyler Shandro, minister of Health for Alberta.
“Our top priority is supporting the health of Albertans. COVID-19 is still with us — but we are now in a place where we need to manage it through vaccinations and the proven public health measures used for other communicable viruses. We expect to see increased influenza and other viruses this year, and these changes will make sure the health system is ready and able to support all Albertans in the months ahead,” noted Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of Health for Alberta.
The province will be implementing a two-phase transition period in order to safely monitor the impact of the initial changes, adapt as needed over the next few weeks and provide more time to vaccinate Albertans.
The first set of measures effective as of July 29:
• Quarantine for close contacts will shift from mandatory to recommended. Isolation for anyone with COVID-19 symptoms and for confirmed positive cases is still required.
– Un-immunized individuals who know they have been exposed to COVID-19 should monitor for symptoms and seek testing if they become symptomatic.
– Anyone who is not fully immunized should avoid high-risk locations such as continuing care facilities and crowded indoor spaces if they have been in contact with a case in the past 14 days.
• All positive cases will continue to be notified. Contact tracers will no longer notify close contacts of exposure. Individuals are asked to inform their close contacts when informed of their positive result.
Contact tracers will continue to investigate cases in high-risk settings such as acute and continuing care facilities.
• Outbreak management and identification will focus on high-risk locations, including continuing and acute care facilities and high-risk workplaces. Community outbreaks with a surge in cases leading to severe outcomes will also be addressed, as needed.
• Asymptomatic testing is no longer recommended. Testing will continue to be available for individuals who are symptomatic.
• Mandatory masking remains in acute and continuing care facilities, publicly accessible transit, taxis and ride-share.
More measures will come into effect Aug. 16:
• Provincial mandatory masking orders will be lifted. Some masking in acute care or continuing care facilities may still be required.
• Isolation following a positive COVID-19 test result will no longer be required, but strongly recommended.
– Individuals with symptoms of any respiratory infection should still remain at home until symptoms have resolved.
– Staying home when sick remains an important way to care for those around us by not passing on any infection.
• Isolation hotels and quarantine support will no longer be available.
• Testing will be available for Albertans with symptoms when it is needed to help direct patient care decisions.
– This testing will be available through assessment centres until Aug. 31 and, after that, will be in primary care settings, including physicians’ offices. For those with severe illness requiring urgent or emergency care, testing will be available in acute care and hospital settings.
– COVID-19 testing will also be offered as needed in high-risk outbreaks such as in continuing care facilities.
• Public health will focus on investigating severe cases that require hospitalization and any deaths due to COVID-19.
• Outbreak management and preventative measures will continue focusing on outbreaks in high-risk settings, such as continuing and acute care facilities.
Community outbreaks will continue to be addressed as needed.
– Daycares and schools will be supported with measures that would be effective for any respiratory virus if outbreaks are identified.
Health officials will continue to closely monitor hospitalizations and other severe outcomes due to COVID-19 in the province, and additional measures will be taken, as needed, in specific facilities or in areas where an outbreak leads to severe outcomes.
Universal masking will not be required in schools once students return. However, it is recommended as a temporary outbreak intervention in response to respiratory outbreaks. A guidance document to support return to schools is being finalized and will be released in mid-August.
A wastewater baseline testing program will also be launched to provide area trend information and monitor variants of concern, with more details being released in the coming weeks.
Albertans are encouraged to book their first and second dose appointments to ensure full effectiveness and long-lasting protection against COVID-19.
Select locations across the province are offering walk-in clinics for first doses, and you can book an appointment with AHS or a participating pharmacy. To book your appointment, visit alberta.ca/vaccine.