Calgary hospital dealing with COVID-19 delta variant outbreaks on 2 units

Sixteen patients and four health care workers at the Foothills Medical Centre (FMC) in Calgary have tested positive for the B.1.617.2 COVID-19 variant, otherwise known as the delta variant that was first identified in India.

Two units are experiencing an outbreak of the delta variant, Alberta Health Services (AHS) said in a statement, and teams are working to identify the source of infection.

"Management and caregivers on the affected units have been instructed to exercise extra vigilance with respect to PPE and fit-for-work screening," reads the AHS statement.

The hospital has experienced several outbreaks on different units over the course of the pandemic. This is the first outbreak that has involved the delta strain of the virus.

"This one definitely feels different," said Cameron Westhead with United Nurses of Alberta.

"Primarily because we know that one dose of the vaccination isn't very effective at this delta variant and a lot of our members don't yet have second doses."

The hospital remains open and has capacity to treat all patients, though AHS said the two units affected by the delta variant are not accepting admissions. Patient transfers to long-term care centres from the two units with the delta variant are also on hold. 

AHS said it had not recorded any new cases at one of the outbreaks since May 20. At the other, no new symptomatic people had been observed on Tuesday morning.

"Temporarily restricting admissions to the units reduces the patient population on the affected units and allows for greater distancing and less sharing of high-contact spaces such as bathrooms," AHS said.

According to Alberta Health, a first dose of an mRNA vaccine — like Pfizer and Moderna— offers 73 per cent protection against the alpha variant. That immunity is boosted to 91 per cent with a second dose.

But against the delta strain, one dose only offers 33 per cent protection, and two doses 88 per cent protection.

AHS says it has inpatient immunization clinics happening at Foothills for patients and staff.

"Just when people are ready for summer and the provincial government is really pushing its reopen for summer plan, it seems like maybe people are letting their guard down and celebrating a bit too soon," Westhead said.

The B.1.617.2 variant was first confirmed in Alberta on April 8. Since then, the province has recorded 193 cases of the strain, 163 of those have been in the Calgary Zone.

With files from CTV Edmonton's Amanda Anderson and Alex Antoneshyn