COVID-19: Variant cases top 300 for first time in Alberta Friday as 717 new cases reported

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Alberta’s COVID-19 variant cases jumped past 300 for the first time on Friday as the more contagious and deadly strains continue rising in the province.

Variant cases broke records four times within the last week and reached 325 on Friday after only surpassing 200 for the first time on Tuesday. The total number of new COVID-19 cases also remained high at 717, and active cases have risen to 7,077 in the province.

Alberta’s active cases have risen since mid-February after dropping to 4,282 on Feb. 18, although numbers still outpaced numbers seen over last summer into the end of October.

Another four COVID-19 deaths were reported Friday, including a man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Edmonton’s Churchill Manor.

Fatalities down: Kenney

Speaking at a Friday announcement about the government’s plan to spend $33 million on more MRI and CT scans, Premier Jason Kenney said the province’s fatality statistics are the lowest they’ve been in the pandemic thanks to the vaccination program. But some of the other metrics are concerning.

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“We are concerned about the increase in active cases, new cases, the rate of transmission, and hospitalizations, all of those metrics. That is why we made the difficult decision not to proceed with the phase three of our path forward for reopening,” he said.

Kenney said he was prepared to introduce “additional targeted public health measures” if there was a spike that threatened the health-care system but didn’t say how high that spike would have to be.

“I hope we don’t have to do that. And really, the single most powerful way we could prevent that is vaccines. We need more vaccines yesterday.”

Demand for MRIs, CT scans down

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said at the announcement earlier Friday the province has seen a decrease in people seeing their doctors to get diagnostic imaging like CT scans or MRIs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Fewer physicians are ordering (CT scans) because fewer patients are seeking care and we’re seeing the same thing with MRIs,” he said.

“The wait list was down 10 per cent in December compared to March and wait times also decreased.”

Shandro said the same thing is happening in other areas of health care like emergency room visits and cancer screenings.

“It’s not what we want to see. We’re reminding people at every opportunity that the system is safe, and people should seek care when they need it,” he said.

Last year the government spent about $148 billion on the scans, largely in hospital settings, Kenney said.

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The one-time funding will allow Alberta Health Services to perform up to 50,000 more CT scans and up to 45,000 more MRIs throughout the province in the 2021-22 fiscal year as part of the government’s promise to reduce wait times.

“This is the first step to drive down overall wait times and reduce the testing backlog created by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kenney said.

“Overall, that’s a 15 per cent hike in the number of scans performed by AHS two years back. It’s a 12 per cent increase for CT scans and a 22 per cent increase for MRIs.”

Shandro said he expects the demand for diagnostic tests to come back as more people are vaccinated.

AHS will perform more than a half-million CT scans this year and by the fiscal year 2024-25, that will increase by about 80,000, Shandro said.

For MRIs, AHS will do more than 240,000 scans this year and add about 15,000 by the year 2024-25.

NDP health critic David Shepherd said in a statement that he is pleased with the announcement but that the government has taken too long.

“I have heard from radiologists and lab technicians across the province who have been calling for greater investment for months to help them do their jobs and yet today’s plan still lacks detail on how it addresses concerns around capacity and resources,” he said.

More to come…

lboothby@postmedia.com

@laurby

ajoannou@postmedia.com

twitter.com/ashleyjoannou

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