Alberta has recorded three new cases of the novel coronavirus, provincial health officials confirmed Monday morning.
That brings the total number of cases in the province to seven, all of which have been confirmed, according to Alberta Health.
The province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the fifth case of COVID-19 is in a woman in her 70s from the Edmonton zone. She is a close contact of a man with the virus in the Edmonton zone that was announced on March 8, Hinshaw said.
The woman was a passenger on the Grand Princess cruise ship and returned to Alberta on Feb. 21, Hinshaw said. Her symptoms started after returning to Alberta.
The sixth case is in a man in his 30s from the Calgary zone, Hinshaw said. He is a close contact of a woman who was confirmed to have the virus Sunday in Calgary. The man had travelled to Ukraine, Netherlands and Turkey, Hinshaw said. He returned to Alberta on March 2 and started experiencing symptoms after returning to Alberta, Hinshaw said.
The seventh case is in a woman in her 50s from the Calgary zone who was a passenger on the MS Braemar cruise ship, Hinshaw said. She returned to Alberta on March 4 and was tested on March 8.
Hinshaw said all three of the new patients are self-isolating at home and are expected to make a full recovery.
Public health investigations into the new cases are underway. Alberta Health said close contacts have been identified and those people have been asked to self-isolate for 14 days while they are monitored for symptoms.
In an update Sunday, Hinshaw said the third and fourth cases of COVID-19 were found in a man in his 60s in the Edmonton zone and a woman in her 30s in the Calgary zone.
Hinshaw said more than 1,000 tests for the new coronavirus were performed over the weekend, as the province ramped up its capacity to conduct tests. Health Link 811 has also increased capacity, she said.
“Quickly catching these cases before they have the chance to spread is exactly what our approach is designed to do,” Hinshaw said.
“It is exactly through this kind of meticulous work that we have the best chance of containing the spread of the virus here in Alberta,” Premier Jason Kenney added Monday afternoon at a media availability in Calgary.
Hinshaw said that all of the confirmed cases in Alberta have been travel-related.
“So far with that large volume of testing, we have only found seven cases and all of them are related to travel,” she said.
Hinshaw stressed Monday that the risk of exposure to the virus remains low in Alberta, but added that may change in the coming weeks.
She said it’s important for people to protect themselves and each other, by covering coughs and sneezes, washing their hands and staying home when they’re sick.
“It means that all of us need to be engaged in this response. We need to start thinking about what our new normal will look like in the coming months,” Hinshaw said.
“It is time to start greeting each other with elbow bumps or waves instead of handshakes. This is not an overreaction but a very practical way of limiting the spread of germs.”
Last week, the province announced medical officials identified the first two presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, one in Calgary and the other in Edmonton.
The first confirmed case was in a Calgary woman in her 50s who had been on a Grand Princess cruise ship out of California. Her test was confirmed over the weekend by the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.
Last week, Alberta Treasury Branch closed two of its Calgary locations where the woman worked. On Monday, ATB said its Sage Hill branch has since reopened.
A spokesperson with ATB said both locations — Sage Hill and Creekside — were thoroughly cleaned over the weekend. The Creekside location reopened on Tuesday.
Kenney said he wants Albertans to be assured that the province is “well prepared for a public health challenge of this nature.”
“The government has a detailed pandemic influenza plan which has been subject to successful exercise as recently as last year, as part of ongoing emergency preparedness activities,” he said.
“The fact that Alberta has been through major emergencies in recent years, such as floods and fires, means that there is a high degree of inter-agency and inter-governmental co-operation which is key at a time like this, as is the fact that we have a single, integrated healthcare agency in AHS.”
Alberta no longer needs to send its positive tests to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg for confirmation, Hinshaw said, because all of the tests confirmed in Alberta so far have been valid.
On Monday morning, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam recommended all Canadians avoid travelling on cruise ships to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus.
As of Monday morning, there were more than 70 confirmed and presumed Canadian cases.
The City of Calgary said Monday evening it was cancelling the Safety Expo, planned for March 11 and 12, “out of an abundance of caution” due to concerns over the spread of the deadly virus.
“Although the information we have from Alberta Health Services indicates that the risk to Albertans is low, the decision to cancel the annual interactive educational event is based on the large number of Grade 5 and 6 students that would be attending from across Calgary, including some with compromised immune systems,” the city said.
Anyone in Alberta who feels ill and believes they may have COVID-19 symptoms is asked to stay home and call 811 for guidance, rather than go to a medical clinic or hospital. More information can be found on Alberta Health’s website.
Alberta Health Services said wait times for Health Link are high, particularly between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Additional clinical staff are being trained to deal with the high volume of calls. Anyone waiting for results of a COVID-19 test are asked not to call Health Link, as staff do not have access to the results. Those awaiting COVID-19 test results will be contacted directly.