Alberta reported 1,625 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, the highest daily total since early October.
The province conducted about 11,800 COVID-19 tests over the past 24 hours, for a test positivity rate of about 13 per cent. There were no new deaths reported Thursday.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday the province is seeing exponential growth of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, as cases are doubling every two to three days. She explained that it is likely that anyone with symptoms has COVID-19.
“Omicron is spreading further and faster than anything we have seen before,” Hinshaw said.
Alberta added 506 new Omicron variant cases Thursday and the province now has 2,367 cases, with 40 of those in the Central zone.
There are also 318 people being treated for COVID-19 in hospital across the province, including 64 in the ICU.
Hinshaw also announced a significant change to the province’s COVID-19 testing program Thursday. Alberta is encouraging anyone who is symptomatic to use a COVID-19 rapid test if it is available, to preserve PCR tests for those in high-risk settings.
“If you test positive and have symptoms, consider that confirmation that you have COVID-19. Please isolate and notify your close contacts,” she said.
“If you test negative and have symptoms, you should stay in isolation and repeat another rapid test, 24 to 48 hours later. If you are negative a second time, you need to stay in isolation until symptoms resolve.”
She explained with the rapid spread of Omicron, there is potential for the province’s test capacity to be overwhelmed, hence the recommendation for individuals to try and use a rapid test if they show symptoms.
Meanwhile, since the province expanded COVID-19 booster shots to anyone 18 and over earlier this week, 196,391 booster doses have been booked.
Hinshaw noted that two doses still provide good protection against the new variant, but the third dose protection appears to be key in fighting against it.
“Omicron evades immune protection in a different way from Delta. That’s not just with vaccines, it includes those who have had a previous infection,” she said.
“Someone who has been infected previously has a much higher risk of reinfection with Omicron than they would have had with Delta. We know the third dose of vaccine is much more important with Omicron than it was with Delta.”
The Central zone has 460 active cases of the virus, with 17 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19 and two in the ICU. To date, 414 deaths have been reported in the local zone.
Red Deer is up from 99 to 102 active cases of the virus as of Thursday. There have been 9,571 cases overall in the city, with 9,385 recovered cases and 84 deaths according to geospatial mapping on the provincial government’s website.
Stettler County has 67 active cases, Clearwater County has 33, Mountain View County has 30, Red Deer County has 24, the City of Lacombe has 23, Lacombe County has 15, Olds has 16 and Sylvan Lake has seven.
Wetaskiwin, including Maskwacis, has 24 active cases, while Ponoka, including East Ponoka County, has three and Rimbey, including West Ponoka County and part of Lacombe County, has four.
The City of Camrose has 32, Kneehill County has seven, Camrose County has five and Drumheller has 11.