Alberta expands access to COVID-19 treatment, with new testing criteria and more prescribers

The Alberta government has redoubled its efforts to get the COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid to eligible Albertans by easing testing criteria and expanding the number of healthcare professionals who can prescribe it.

The requirement for eligible Albertans to have a positive PCR test result to get a prescription for Paxlovid has changed. Now, in some circumstances, a positive result on a rapid test will be acceptable, Health Minister Jason Copping announced at a news conference on Wednesday.

Also, the treatment can now be prescribed by doctors, nurse practitioners and some pharmacists.

“This change will make it faster and easier to access the drug and start treatment,” Copping said.

Paxlovid is a treatment given to adults with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19, but who are at higher risk of hospitalization or death.

Prompt access to the drug is vital because to be effective, it must be taken within five days of developing symptoms.

While a PCR test is still preferred, people can access treatment with a positive result from a rapid test administered by the prescriber. They can also do a quick test at home and have the result confirmed by the prescriber, Copping said.

The change will be gradual to ensure that people prescribing the medication feel comfortable doing so, a government press release said.

Albertans who do not have a primary care physician, or whose health care provider is not eligible to prescribe Paxlovid, can access it through Alberta Health Services, the release said.

69 more COVID-19 deaths

From April 26 to May 2, an additional 69 COVID-19 deaths were reported in Alberta, said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the county health officer, at Wednesday’s press conference.

The people who died ranged in age from 28 to 102, Hinshaw said.

There have now been 4,321 deaths in Alberta since the start of the pandemic, provincial data shows.

Meanwhile, the number of Albertans hospitalized with COVID-19 continued to rise.

Data shows that 1,267 people are hospitalized, including 46 patients who are in intensive care.

Last week 1,220 were in hospital, 47 of which were in the ICU.

The positivity rate of the seven-day PCR test is 22.98 percent, down from 25.75 percent a week ago.

There have been 5,754 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the past week. However, that number only represents positive results from PCR tests, which are not available to most Albertans.

Flu is on the rise: Hinshaw

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is being complicated with an increase in flu cases in Alberta and across Canada, Hinshaw said.

More than 700 Albertans have been diagnosed with the flu this season, most of them reported in the past two months, Hinshaw said.

Of those people, 68 went to hospital, including three who were admitted to the ICU, she said.

“We are experiencing a rise in seasonal flu with levels that are higher than at any time in the past two years,” she said.

Measures people can take to prevent the spread of the flu are similar to those that prevent transmission of COVID-19, she said, including washing hands properly, staying home when sick and wearing masks in public places.

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