Just before midnight on Tuesday, Albertans with COVID-19 will no longer be required to self-isolate and wearing masks will no longer be required on public transit.
In a news release issued Monday, the provincial government announced it is moving to the final step of its plan to ease public health measures related to the pandemic. The lifting of isolation and masking rules will take effect at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday.
“We need to live with COVID-19 while accepting that it will continue to be present,” Health Minister Jason Copping said.
“We’ll continue to work to keep Albertans safe by ensuring access to vaccines, antivirals and rapid tests, through ongoing COVID-19 surveillance, and by enhancing health-care system capacity.”
The government cited declining numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations in its announcement, noting the rate of new hospitalizations peaked on April 26 with 20.7 new coronavirus admissions per day per million population. As of June 9, the government said that number was down to 6.6 a day.
The government also said that “PCR test positivity and wastewater surveillance also show a continuing trend of declining COVID-19 transmission.”
While other provinces have also lifted mandatory isolation requirements for people with COVID-19, the Alberta government said it continues to recommend self-isolation for anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 or has symptoms of the disease.
“Learning to live with COVID-19 does not mean forgetting about it,” said chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
“As we bring COVID-19 management in line with other respiratory diseases, it will continue to be vital that we receive our primary vaccine series and any additional booster doses we are eligible for, and continue good habits like washing our hands regularly and avoiding being around others if we feel sick.”
Dr. Stephanie Smith, an infectious disease specialist in Alberta, said it makes sense to treat COVID-19 similar to other respiratory viruses, but she hopes people continue to take precautions when sick.
“What people need to understand is that of course COVID has not completely disappeared and there are still people in the community that are at high risk for severe disease,” Smith said. “If you have a bit of a sniffle and you’re not sure if it’s COVID or another virus, then we can still protect those around us by wearing a mask when we go out in public, and that’s what I hope will become more commonplace.
“Just because the mask mandates have been lifted and the isolation requirements have been lifted doesn’t mean that we should be going out in the community when we’re sick and not protecting others.”
The government said it is already preparing for fall and winter when respiratory viruses tend to be more active. Among the province’s plans is to prepare to “expand acute care surge capacity.”
At a news conference on Thursday, Copping spoke about the sixth wave of COVID-19 fuelled by the BA.2 Omicron subvariant and said “we are past this wave and in a period of declining transmission.”
“Barring the arrival of any new variant or subvariant that behaves differently, we expect to see low transmission rates throughout the summer, especially as more activities move outside.”
On Monday, the government noted that while mask requirements on transit and isolation requirements are being lifted this week, “masking and any other measures to protect patients in Alberta Health Services and contracted health facilities will remain in place through AHS policy as required for infection prevention and control.”
The province said Hinshaw’s orders in continuing care will be rescinded by June 30 but some measures will remain, including the “isolation of symptomatic residents, outbreak protocols and masking.”
Following Monday’s announcement, Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta, tweeted that the total number of people in the province who have received a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine remains low and is still “not enough.”
It seems like everyone is dropping everything semi -simultaneously…
Third dose vaccination rate still low (1.6 million third doses = not enough.)
— Dr. Lynora Saxinger MD FRCPC Infectious Diseases (@AntibioticDoc) June 14, 2022
According to the government’s website, as of June 6, 1,682,929 Albertans had received a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That is less than half the number of Albertans who have received two doses.
According to the federal government’s website, as of May 22, Alberta had the second-lowest percentage of people with three doses of a vaccine of all Canadian provinces and territories at 37.67 per cent. Nunavut had the lowest percentage at 37.08 per cent while Newfoundland and Labrador had the highest at 56.9 per cent.
–With a file from Adam Toy, Global News
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