December WS Regular Graphics (37)

Although no additional restrictions were announced, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Health Minister Jason Copping warned Albertans to take extra precautions over New Year’s Eve.

Hinshaw did not provide a full update on COVID-19 infection and hospitalization numbers on Friday, but did confirm there’re about 21,000 known active cases and said this number is likely lower than actual cases.

Copping said for those who’re considered fully vaccinated, quarantine times have been reduced from 10 days to five, only if no longer symptomatic. For the remaining five days, individuals will be required to stay masked around others at all times outside the home.

For those unvaccinated, Copping said the 10-day isolation is still required and should continue until symptom-free.

Both Hinshaw and Copping encouraged those participating in New Year’s Eve celebrations to comply with all restrictions including masking, social distancing and limiting or postponing all gatherings.

Hinshaw also indicated only 20% of eligible people have received their third-dose booster shots and encouraged Albertans to book their boosters as soon as possible through the Alberta Vaccine Booking System.

Hinshaw’s update follows Thursday’s announcement from Alberta’s Education Minister Adriana LaGrange that K-12 schools in the province will extend the Christmas break and bump the return to school date to January 10, one week later than initially scheduled.

The Alberta government confirmed 8.6 million masks and 16.5 million rapid test kits will be delivered to schools, starting the week of January 10, instead of January 3.

High school students will have their January diploma exams cancelled. A decision will be made later in 2022 regarding April and June diploma exams.

“With the COVID situation rapidly evolving, so too must our response. This pause will give teachers, school administrators and school authorities more time to plan for students to return safely to learning,” said LaGrange in a Thursday news conference.

“Under very challenging circumstances, I am very grateful to parents, students, teachers and education partners for their flexibility during the pandemic.”

Copping also announced the province is improving access to virtual physician appointments for those who need or choose this option of care.

“We know that some Albertans have put off visiting a physician during the pandemic to address their health care needs,” said Copping in a statement on Thursday.

“Improving access to virtual care is increasingly important to people who wish to limit their personal interactions during the pandemic, but need to see a physician. Balancing the payments for virtual and in-person options allow physicians to choose the best mode of care delivery without having to worry about compensation.”

Dr. Michelle Warren of the Alberta Medical Association said she has heard from many physicians who have struggled to “maintain the viability of their practices through the pandemic.”

“Recognizing that virtual care should be valued at the same level as in-person care is important,” said Warren.

“These improvements will support all physicians that provide virtual care — particularly those that practice in the community — to continue delivering quality care for their patients while helping to financially stabilize their clinics.”

Since the introduction of virtual care in 2020, approximately 42% of patients were seen virtually, whether for appointments, consultations or mental health services. During the fiscal year 2020/21, it is estimated more than 4,700 family physicians and nearly 4,000 specialist physicians offered virtual care to patients.

Physicians will now be able to include time spent on indirect care like charting and completing referrals while billing for their virtual care services, such as visits and consultations with patients. The addition of a new modifier code will also allow doctors to bill for longer visits.

The billing changes will come into effect on January 1 and will be evaluated on an ongoing basis.

Melanie Risdon is a reporter with the Western Standard

Reporter (Alberta)

Melanie Risdon is an Alberta Reporter for the Western Standard and Alberta Report based in the Calgary Headquarters. She has over 20 years’ experience in media at Global News, Rogers and Corus.

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