Alberta post-secondary students will stay online during Omicron’s peak

Previous spikes in Alberta infection waves were linked to more public health restrictions, researcher says

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Post-secondary institutions in Alberta have delayed the return to in-person learning as new national modeling suggests Omicron infections may soon peak in Canada.

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The University of Calgary, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, University of Alberta, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and University of Lethbridge will continue virtual classes for at least another six weeks.

Students who have participated in online classes since returning from vacation could return to campus on February 28.

In a statement on Friday, University of Calgary President Ed McCauley said early data shows the fifth wave of COVID-19 in Alberta is expected to peak in early February.

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“Our decision to temporarily suspend the return to in-person teaching and learning will allow the University of Calgary to play its part in reducing the spread,” McCauley said. “This should help ease the burden on our healthcare system at this key time.”

Nicole Schmidt, president of the University of Calgary students’ union, said the union supports the university’s decision to expand online learning as “s students want to be sure that if they attend classes and lectures in person, they do so in a safe manner.

The provincial government should begin providing masks and testing kits to post-secondary campuses before the end of February to ensure a safe return, she said.

“Our post-secondary institutions truly deserve the same tools and protections as other places of learning in Alberta. And we haven’t seen that from the government.

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Daily case counts are declining in Calgary and Edmonton, although active cases continue to rise across the province.

Alberta reported 6,163 new cases on Friday, with a positivity rate of around 37% while active cases rose to 64,129.

Due to restricted public lab testing, the province has estimated that the number of daily cases is likely 10 times higher than the reported number.

There are 822 people hospitalized, up 36 people from Thursday. There are 81 people in intensive care, two more than on Thursday. Five other people died.

The number of daily cases of COVID-19 has fallen slightly, according to wastewater data collected by the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta.
The number of daily cases of COVID-19 has fallen slightly, according to wastewater data collected by the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta. Photo by screenshot

Researcher links restrictions to wave peak

At Thursday’s press conference, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said it was too early to tell what the general trend in Alberta would be. Positivity and transmission rates are still extremely high, she said.

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“Omicron is so transmissible that the rapidly rising number of cases could reach a point where more people than any previous wave would need to be admitted for hospital care,” Hinshaw said.

Premier Jason Kenney said he hopes the province may start to see cases drop soon, but the number of cases is “just huge.”

“They’re a lot bigger than what our tests can identify, and there’s going to be a lot of cases if and when we go down that peak,” Kenney said.

Alberta Health did not respond to requests from Postmedia for a COVID-19 modeling update.

Gosia Gasperowicz, a developmental biologist at the University of Calgary, has done independent modeling of previous waves of COVID-19 in Alberta. She found that previous waves of infections had started to peak when more public health restrictions were introduced.

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For example, when the province returned schools to online learning in the second wave, infections peaked before dropping sharply. The same trend happened in the third wave, she said.

“Right after the restrictions were introduced, the wave crashed. But it was because of these restrictions,” Gasperowicz explained.

Maintaining the status quo allows positive cases to increase exponentially until the virus runs out of people to infect, she said — an approach the province has never taken before. But it’s not the one that will protect against future waves of infection, she said.

“If I am infected now, I may have some temporary immunity to infection, but it will decline over time. Then when another variant comes with higher immune evasion, I may be again infected.

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Gasperowicz said Albertans deserve to see predictive models of transmission, including those that incorporate the potential impact of new public health restrictions.

“The wave is not inevitable. We have control over where the spike can be.

Modeling across Canada

The federal government’s nationwide forecast released on Friday indicates the surge could soon peak, but health experts won’t know for sure for about a week. Omicron may have a lower risk of hospitalization, but the sheer volume of cases could still drive up hospitalization rates.

“It is entirely possible that we will see this spike in the next few days, at least in the number of cases,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, during a press briefing. .

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Quebec had previously said the latest wave was peaking, and on Friday, BC modeling suggested the province likely peaked last weekend, although hospitalizations are expected to peak next week. .

In Ontario, the expert pandemic advisory group said the latest indications suggest COVID-19 hospitalizations could peak in the coming weeks as test positivity has begun to decline in the province.

— With files from The Canadian Press

bgervais@postmedia.com

Twitter: @BrittGervaisAB

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