Alberta’s Health Minister Jason Copping, alongside chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, gave an in-person update on Wednesday afternoon regarding the current COVID-19 situation across the province. 

The duo said the update served as a reminder that COVID-19 continues to put pressure on the Alberta healthcare system but vaccines and a better understanding of the virus have Albertans “learning to live with it,” according to Copping. 

It’s been five weeks since Alberta began Step 1 of its reopening plan which saw the end to the vaccine passport and two weeks since Alberta entered Step 2, which ended the mask mandate alongside nearly all other health measures that had been in place. 

Copping says it doesn’t appear cases of COVID-19 in Alberta are on the rise since the province began lifting the health measures. 

“We continue to see a decline or plateau in both our lagging and leading indicators. There’s been some variation in the positivity rate for PCR tests, but overall, since Step 1 began, it has dropped nearly seven per cent.”  

There’s also been a continuing steady decline in what Copping says is the most important lagging indicator: hospitalizations.  

Currently, there are 989 Albertans in the hospital due to COVID-19 including 70 Albertans in intensive care, which is around a 40 per cent decline from when health measures began to ease. 

“It will take time for hospitalizations to get down to a level before the fifth wave,” says Copping. “This is promising news for the health system.” 

Some changes to Alberta’s COVID-19 response were also announced, including modifications to how public data will be reported. 

Beginning next week, Alberta will join other provinces, such as Saskatchewan, in reducing case and outbreak reporting to once a week. Data from the previous seven days will be available each Wednesday. With this shift, Alberta will also consolidate some of the data posted to Alberta’s website to reflect the most relevant and current information. 

Changes are also being made to the Employer and Service Provider Rapid Testing Program which was introduced to ensure rapid testing was available in all high-risk settings. 

Beginning April 1, the program will only be available to employers and service providers who care for vulnerable populations including Alberta Health Services locations, designated supported living, K-12 school staff, and childcare. 

Copping says the change to the program comes as rapid testing kits are widely available to all and focus has shifted to making sure vulnerable Albertans are being taken care of. 

When it was time for Hinshaw to speak, she supported the province's decision to make changes in both the Rapid Testing Program and how the province will report data going forward. 

Hinshaw also reminded Albertans to use common sense and kindness in any St. Patrick’s Day gatherings a person might have planned.