Two COVID-19 outbreaks at a Calgary hospital linked to the more-contagious Delta variant of the virus have grown to 22 people, including 10 who were fully vaccinated.
Kerry Williamson, executive director of communications for Alberta Health Services, or AHS, said the majority of cases in two units of the Foothills Medical Centre are mild. There are another 11 cases in a third unit, though that has not been associated with the variant. Overall, two patients, including one of the cases involving the Delta variant, have required intensive care.
Mr. Williamson said an investigation is under way to identify how the cases were acquired but that the majority seemed hospital-related. Despite the increase, one unit was taken off outbreak status on Wednesday, and no new cases have been reported on one of the units since May 20, he said.
Experts have raised concern about the variants, and the Delta variant in particular, which is proving more effective at infecting people who have only had one dose of a two-dose regimen. The Delta variant, which was first associated with India, represents a small percentage of overall cases in Alberta but that has been increasing.
Alberta Health data show 119 cases of the variant reported from May 1 to June 5. The Delta variant made up nearly 8 per cent of new cases reported last Sunday, compared with less than 1 per cent two weeks earlier.
Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Deena Hinshaw, has said AHS implemented strict outbreak protocols in the Foothills Medical Centre that she said are “working.” She said health officials are monitoring the people who became infected despite two doses of the vaccine but stressed that fully vaccinated people still have strong protection against the variant.
“What we’re monitoring now is whether they [the fully vaccinated peopled] had, as we would expect, a milder course of illness,” she said Thursday. “There still is a portion of people who can go on to be infected. ... We know from the data in the U.K. that, after a second dose, the effectiveness of mRNA vaccines boosts to the high 80s.”
The province also opened up second doses to people who had their first shots in April, which was initially expected to happen next week.
Last fall, Foothills Medical Centre experienced another outbreak, resulting in 26 patients in two cardiac wards testing positive for COVID-19, as well as 27 health care workers. In addition, 136 health care workers were forced into isolation.
Mr. Williamson said health care employees who have worked on the affected units since the latest outbreak began have been restricted from working on other units at FMC or other locations in the Calgary zone. Admissions to the two affected units and patient transfers to long-term care facilities or community-based housing are on hold.
A pop-up clinic was held for health care workers this week on affected units, and approximately 600 received their second dose of COVID-19 vaccinations, he said. In addition, management and caregivers on the affected units were instructed to “exercise extra vigilance” regarding personal protective equipment and fit-for-work screening.
Mr. Williamson said patients discharged from the hospital would be given guidance on isolation and followed up on by public-health staff. Accommodations will be provided at a designated isolation hotel for those who do not have a safe spot to isolate themselves.
A recent study out of Britain found people who received a single dose of an mRNA vaccine only received 33-per-cent protection from symptomatic infections from the Delta variant. However, after people are fully immunized against the virus, the study said their protection from the Delta strain significantly increases.
Lynora Saxinger, associate professor of infectious diseases in the department of medicine at the University of Alberta, said while the province is in a better position now in terms of cases and hospitalizations than in the third wave, the Delta strain poses the biggest threat in the province.
In high-risk settings such as hospitals, she said the Delta variant is most concerning, especially with the spread of the virus between people who have only received one dose of the vaccine.
“If we can push second doses, I think that would help a lot,” she said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to make clear that 11 cases in a third unit are not associated with the Delta variant.
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