A summary of news releases and statements issued by Alberta government today.
Alberta’s rapid testing program is expanding to allow all Albertans to have access to free rapid tests. Test kits of five individual tests will be available at select Alberta Health Services sites and select pharmacies starting Dec. 17. More than 500,000 rapid antigen test kits will initially be available for at-home use. Rapid test kits will also be made available at more schools and for vulnerable populations.
Expanding vaccine boosters
As of Dec. 15, Albertans aged 50 and older and all health-care workers who had their second dose six months ago or longer can book a third dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine to increase their protection against the virus. This will make up to 700,000 more Albertans eligible to book boosters.
Ramping up health system capacity
Alberta Health is working with Alberta Health Services on planning to restore intensive care unit surge capacity if Omicron begins to put pressure on the health-care system. Alberta Health is also reviewing policies for health-care worker exposure, infection prevention and control, and visitors to acute/continuing care sites.
Clarifying health measures
Albertans are being asked to observe public health measures over the holidays around social gatherings, masking and personal practices. Indoor social gatherings will remain limited to 10 people. This applies to Albertans aged 18 and over, with no limits on those under 18. Additionally, there will be no limits on number of households and no distinction between vaccine and unvaccinated attendees. With these modest changes, Alberta’s social gathering restrictions remain among the most stringent in Canada.
Booster eligibility expansion
Starting Dec. 15, Albertans aged 50 and older and all health-care workers can book a third dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine if they received their second dose at least six months before.
Eligible individuals can book appointments for third doses online with participating pharmacies or AHS by using the Alberta vaccine booking system. Albertans can also call 811, participating pharmacies or participating physicians’ offices.
At-home rapid test kits
Starting Dec. 17, Albertans can pick up a free BTNX rapid test kit from 700 select pharmacies in Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer, and 140 select Alberta Health Services sites in other communities. To find a location, visit alberta.ca/CovidRapidTests. As more tests become available from Health Canada, more locations will be added.
Kits will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. To ensure as many Albertans have access as possible, there is a limit of one box of tests within a 14-day period per person. Albertans can pick up one additional box for another person(s) who cannot pick one up themselves provided they have each individual’s health care number.
Each BTNX rapid test kit contains five rapid tests. For maximum benefit, an individual should use two tests each week, 72 hours apart. Tests are of particular benefit for those who have had a recent COVID-19 exposure. Each test kit includes an information sheet with details on how and when to use the test.
These tests are intended for at-home personal use for regular screening in asymptomatic people. Albertans who screen positive on a rapid test or who have COVID-19 symptoms should book a confirmatory PCR test through Alberta Health Services and must isolate for 10 days or until they receive a negative PCR test result.
In-home rapid tests will also be made available to foster families and kinship caregivers with school-aged children.
Albertans who are looking for tests for their workplace are encouraged to access tests through their employers’ rapid test programs. If an employer does not provide tests, Albertans must provide documentation from privately paid tests.
The rapid test kits provided for free through Alberta’s rapid testing programs cannot be used for the Restrictions Exemption Program (REP), which requires privately paid test results.
Additionally, the rapid test kits cannot be used for travel. They do not include appropriate documentation, so Albertans should not attempt to use them for domestic or international travel needs.
School rapid testing program
All K-6 schools on alert status (two or more cases in the last 14 days who were present at school while infectious) can now request rapid test kits. Participation in the program is optional for schools, parents and staff.
To date, more than 90 schools have requested tests for students and staff and more than 35,000 students and staff have accessed rapid tests through this program.
All rapid tests are only for people without COVID-19 symptoms. If an individual has COVID-19 symptoms, they must not use a rapid test. They should stay home, isolate and book a test through Alberta Health Services with the online assessment tool or by calling 811.
Rapid testing program
Rapid tests continue to be available to any public, private or not-for-profit employer or service provider with an approved COVID-19 screening program.
Organizations can continue to apply at alberta.ca/rapidtesting or with their local chamber of commerce.
Social gathering changes
Effective immediately, indoor private social gatherings will no longer be limited to two households. The maximum number of individuals 18 years and older permitted is 10. In addition, there will be no distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated Albertans.
The temporary state of public health emergency has lapsed. However, all other current public health restrictions remain in effect, including mandatory masking in indoor public places.
Outdoor social gathering capacity remains at 20 people, regardless of vaccination status. Physical distancing between households is required.