Variant testing in Alberta scaled back as case rates continue to increase

Starting Saturday, Alberta Precision Laboratories will only test specific samples for COVID-19 variants of concern.

The provincial health lab sent a notice to health care providers Friday saying it will only test samples from specific populations, including hospital and emergency room patients, patients involved in outbreaks, health care staff and people who have recently travelled internationally.

Since Feb. 3, the lab tested all samples of COVID-19 detected in Alberta for variants of concern.

“Positivity rates and overall test volumes of COVID-19 have rapidly increased, necessitating a change in the testing strategy to maintain laboratory capacity and turnaround times,” the memo from the lab said.

The memo stated that populations deemed at a higher risk of infection with a variant of concern or in higher risk places for spreading a variant will be targeted for testing.

For the third day in a row, Alberta broke pandemic records on Saturday for COVID-19 infections reported in one day and total active cases.

Alberta reported 2,433 cases of COVID-19 Saturday, including 1,743 variant of concern cases.

Variant of concern cases currently represent 62.1 per cent of all active COVID-19 infections in the province.

"As the United Kingdom (B.1.1.7) Variant is now the dominant strain in Alberta, and we are able to monitor for other variants through a targeted strategy, it is no longer necessary to screen all positive tests for variants," AHS told CTV News in a statement.

"This change is being made to maintain required lab capacity for general COVID-19 testing with average turnaround times for results of 24 hours."