Alberta confirmed 652 new cases of COVID-19 amongst about 9,300 tests conducted Monday.
The province has 13,220 active cases. There are 819 Albertans in hospital with the disease, 132 of whom are receiving intensive care.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw also reported Tuesday 38 deaths that have been linked to COVID-19 in the province. The deaths occurred between Dec. 30 and Jan. 12 in numerous regions across the province.
She said the province has increased its contact tracing capacity since the fall to a point where high-priority cases and others can be contacted within 24 hours.
The rate of cases without a known source in Alberta has dropped from 80 per cent mid-December, when the system was most overloaded, to 40 per cent. According to Alberta's top doctor, there is normally about 30 per cent of cases whose source can't be identified.
Altogether the data suggests, Hinshaw said, that the "vast majority" of Albertans followed her direction over the holidays and stayed within their household for Christmas.
"It's not quite two weeks since New Year’s, so it is a bit early to tell fully if there has been an impact from any gatherings that may have happened at that time. But overall, it does seem that in this province we have avoided that acceleration that some other provinces and some other places around the world have seen."
EXTENDING THE SECOND DOSE INTERVAL
Alberta has finalized a decision officials said they were only discussing one day earlier: going forward, when possible and with the consent of the patient, the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine will be administered later than the recommended three to four weeks.
Trials suggested each the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine was about 90 per cent effective two weeks after a single dose. The manufacturers recommended a second dose be administered three to four weeks after the first, though in some trials the second dose was given as many as 42 days later.
"We don't know for sure how long the first dose protection will last. But given that some people in that study did have that 42-day interval, given that the National Advisory Committee on Immunization in Canada has indicated that this interval could be considered when vaccine supplies are in very short numbers and high community transmission is taking place, and the World Health Organization has also made that statement, we felt that the responsible thing to do," Hinshaw said.
"To prevent as many deaths as possible … provide that first dose to as many people as possible, while still planning for that second dose."
On Tuesday, she expressed condolences for more families of COVID-19 victims than ever before.
"Today is a difficult day," the chief medical officer of health said, calling the decision a difficult one to make.
"It's exactly for that reason that we want to make sure that every Albertan who is at risk gets the vaccine as soon as possible."
Any appointments already made will be honoured, she said, everyone who receives the vaccine going forward will be informed of the change in process, and all long-term care and supportive living residents will receive the second dose at the three-to-four week interval.
Earlier that day, Alberta Health had administered more than 52,300 doses of COVID-19 vaccines as of Wednesday – about 1,183 per population of 100,000.
New #COVID19AB vaccination record in Alberta.
I am pleased to announce that as of January 11, 52,000 Albertans have now been vaccinated.
We've also broken a new daily record with over 5,200 Albertans vaccinated yesterday. 1/2#abhealth #ableg pic.twitter.com/8fRXKmv3E1
6 VARIANTS FOUND IN ALBERTA SO FAR: CMOH
One COVID-19 case with genetic changes that were first found in South Africa and five of the variant first identified in the United Kingdom have been confirmed within the province's borders.
"What we know about all of those cases is that they were people who had recently travelled internationally and that there has been some indication that there has been a very small amount of household transmission in one of those cases, but no onward transmission into the community," Alberta's top doctor explained.
"And at this point in time, we have no evidence that either of those two variants is spreading in our community."
Hinshaw said her department was working to increase the number of tests it performs for the variants.
Currently, up to 150 samples each week undergo full genetic sequencing. Since the variants were located in December, Alberta has been working to put through extra tests looking for specific mutations.
The goal, Hinshaw told media, was to be able to sequence 100 samples every day, testing for the variants first found in South Africa and the U.K.