Alberta is shifting to a “more targeted approach” to COVID-19 asymptomatic testing, says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
The province will target asymptomatic testing for “those who most need it and where it is most likely to identify positive cases,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said during a live update Thursday afternoon.
“This is the best way to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of Albertans during the winter and flu season,” Hinshaw said, adding this will also reduce testing wait times and speed up access to results.
Asymptomatic testing will be available for “priority groups” who are most likely to spread the virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. These groups include residents and staff at congregate settings, health-care workers, school teachers and staff, and Albertans experiencing homelessness.
“This change to focus on priority groups will help ensure testing is scheduled as quickly as possible and shorten the length of time that Albertans are waiting to get results,” said Hinshaw.
Anyone who is experiencing symptoms, is a close contact with a confirmed case and linked to an outbreak will continue to be tested, she added.
While testing is no longer recommended for asymptomatic Albertans who are not in these priority groups, or with no known exposure, people who have already booked a test can still get one.
The City of Red Deer still has eight active COVID-19 cases, according to geospatial mapping on the provincial government’s website.
Alberta Health Service’s central zone is down to 29 active cases, which is three fewer than Wednesday.
Lacombe County, Sylvan Lake and Mountain View County have one active case each. Ponoka County and the City of Wetaskiwin have two cases each.
Total cases have increased by 146 in the province – there are currently 1,483 active cases and 14,537 recovered cases.
Forty-one people are currently in hospital, eight of whom are in ICU. There are no hospitalizations in the central zone.
Edmonton has the most active cases, with 751. Meanwhile, Calgary has 470, the north zone has 193, the south zone has 38 and two are located in an unknown area.
The upcoming winter will provide a “significant challenge” for Alberta, said Hinshaw. During influenza season, there will be a greater chance of catching a cold or flu, which have similar symptoms to COVID.
“More people with symptoms means that we will see more people needing to be tested,” she said.
“Our lab system needs to support cases of both COVID-19 and influenza. Winter also means that we will be spending more time indoors and COVID-19 is a virus that spreads easily through close contact, especially indoors.”
Hinshaw said people spending more time indoors will increase the risk of exposure, which also increases the need for quick and timely testing.
“COVID-19 testing will remain crucial to supporting a safe school year and keeping Alberta’s economy open throughout the winter,” she said.