Fifty-seven confirmed cases of the new COVID variant in Alberta

Feb 2 2021			By Regan Tate	
		57 cases of variant strains of COVID-19 identified in Alberta

According to Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, both infected students are the children of returning travellers.

The new quarantine rules will be the strictest in Canada, where the number of variant cases identified has been growing, including more than 50 in Alberta.

"This is concerning but it does mean that we have a better chance of controlling spread when we understand the linkages between cases", Hinshaw said. Studies show it is more contagious than the original virus, and public-health officials are increasingly anxious about mutations being more resistant to vaccines.

Medicine Hat, AB-Alberta Health Services is closely monitoring for variant strains of COVID-19 in Alberta.

"If cases choose to stay at home during their isolation period, their household contacts will now need to stay at home as well in quarantine until 14 days have passed from the case's isolation period, for a total of 24 days", Hinshaw said at a press briefing.

In total, the province has 57 variant cases: seven of the variant that first emerged in South Africa and 50 of the strain that emerged in the United Kingdom. She said contacts are being asked to be tested twice for COVID-19.

"We of course know that seeing additional cases of the variants without a clear link to travel is concerning", she said. Another six cases were found in close contacts. In two Calgary zone schools, this household spread has unfortunately led to children of returning travellers attending school while infectious.

The top doctor stressed that there had not been any evidence of spread in the Calgary classrooms: "At this point in time, there's no evidence that these schools pose any greater or different risk to the public than any other school".

"The families involved in these situations did not intentionally break any rules and should not be blamed or shamed", she added.

The variants spread in the same way as the original COVID-19 virus but are more contagious, and officials fear they could quickly overwhelm the health-care system if allowed to spread unchecked. It can screen 300 samples a day for variants and run full genetic sequencing on 400 samples a week.

Reassuringly, the province's test positivity rate has dropped to 3.5%, the lowest it's been in months.

He said the extension could backfire, as it could deter people with COVID-19 symptoms from getting tested, for example.

The 24-day quarantine applies only to household members of patients who test positive for what Hinshaw described as "variants of concern". "That's a lot", he said.



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