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Alberta’s health minister said Wednesday that COVID-19 subvariant BA.2 had peaked, although COVID-19 concentrations remained high in the province’s major cities.

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Health Secretary Jason Copping said there was an average test positivity rate of 17.5 percent between May 17 and 23, up from 20 percent the week before.

There are 1,040 COVID-19 patients hospitalized compared to the previous week, including 31 requiring intensive care. Alberta recorded an additional 55 COVID-19 deaths in the past seven days.

“Positivity rates have gone down over the past month, suggesting there are fewer transmissions,” Copping said.

“There is still a lot of COVID viruses, especially in Edmonton and Calgary, and we cannot expect them to go to zero. A real risk remains, particularly for those who are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated, and there are still many people hospitalized with COVID.

“But relief is coming as BA.2 levels are falling in major cities,” he said, adding that Alberta Health is expanding hospital capacity. “We promised Alberta’s residents a stronger healthcare system with better access to care, and we take that promise seriously.”

dr Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said two emerging subvariants of Omicron have received international attention – BA.4 and BA.5.

“Both have been identified in several other countries around the world. The available evidence suggests that these subvariants are more easily transmissible than previous versions,” Hinshaw said, adding that neither appears to cause an increased risk of serious disease.

The first case of BA.4 was identified in Alberta last week.

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A recent surge of COVID-19 in Calgary’s sewage is back on track, but virus levels in the community have not fallen as low as they did between the first three waves of infection.

Since the spread of the Omicron variant in Alberta in late 2021 and into 2022, COVID-19 levels in the city’s wastewater have not returned to near-zero levels as they did in the months between the first waves, said University of Calgary scientist Casey Hubert.

“These are high levels and they seem to be hanging around, going up and down, up and down, if you look at March, April and May,” Hubert said on the phone on Wednesday.

“But we’re not seeing – like we’re seeing with the first wave, the second wave and the third wave, you can see it going much closer to zero between those waves – we haven’t seen that since the fall of 2021. We have not seen it zero at any point in the last six months.”

Hubert said this indicates Calgary is still experiencing high levels of COVID-19. Because each person needs to make informed decisions about the risks they and their families take on a daily basis, wastewater data can be used as a forecast for how best to prepare.

“Similar to deciding to wear a jacket when it might get colder, should you order your groceries instead of going to the store if you’re planning on visiting your immunocompromised friend for the weekend?” Hubert said.

The sewage data for Calgary and other Alberta communities monitored by researchers from the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta can be found at The Alberta government continues to support the research as it fills the reduced PCR testing gap.

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