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Health Link, assessment centres, provincial labs: A look at how Alberta is preparing for the coronavirus

Click to play video 'Alberta provincial laboratory for coronavirus testing' Alberta provincial laboratory for coronavirus testing
WATCH: A provincial laboratory in Calgary, Alta. where samples would be tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus – Mar 4, 2020

Alberta Health Services is providing an inside look at how the province is preparing for and working to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Health Link has been receiving an influx of calls since the first coronavirus cases in Alberta were announced.

WATCH: Long wait times or no answer for Health Link callers

According to a tweet posted Tuesday, the service is experiencing high wait times between the hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

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Anyone who is returning to Alberta from outside the country is being asked to self-monitor for flu-like symptoms, and if they begin to experience any, they are asked to self-isolate and call Health Link to be tested for the coronavirus. Albertans are being urged not to go to the emergency room or urgent care centres.

WATCH: Dr. Hinshaw responds to Albertans’ complaints of longs waits calling Health Link

A nurse will run through an assessment of symptoms and travel history. In-home testing by community paramedics or public health nurses may be available, depending on which zone the individual is in.

A look at the Health Link call centre in southern Alberta. Courtesy/Alberta Health Services
"Our government is preparing for what lies ahead to be sure we are ready to live with COVID-19, ready to return to work and ready to return to school," said Cameron Friesen, Minister of Health, Seniors, and Active Living, in a news release. Courtesy/Alberta Health Services
A look at the Health Link call centre in southern Alberta. Courtesy/Alberta Health Services
Courtesy/Alberta Health Services

Depending on where the individual is located and the volume of calls to Health Link, the individual may be referred to an assessment centre.

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Assessment centres have been opened in Edmonton and Calgary due to high demand for virus testing.

WATCH: An Alberta Health Services assessment centre for coronavirus testing in Calgary, Alta.

Click to play video 'A coronavirus assessment centre in Calgary' A coronavirus assessment centre in Calgary
A coronavirus assessment centre in Calgary – Mar 11, 2020

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said there continues to be capacity for in-home testing in rural parts of the province but plans are in place for all zones in Alberta if demand increases.

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More than 2,400 tests have been done as of March 10.

A look inside an assessment centre in Calgary where coronavirus testing is done. Courtesy/Alberta Health Services
A look inside an assessment centre in Calgary where coronavirus testing is done. Courtesy: Alberta Health Services
A look inside an assessment centre in Calgary where coronavirus testing is done. Courtesy: Alberta Health Services
A look inside an assessment centre in Calgary where coronavirus testing is done. Courtesy/Alberta Health Services

Samples from virus testing are then sent to a provincial lab.

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Previously, a positive test from a provincial lab was considered presumptive until it was confirmed by the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.

However, after seven presumptive cases in Alberta were confirmed by the national lab, Hinshaw said positive samples tested by Alberta labs no longer require further confirmation by the national lab.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Alberta plans for expanded testing capacity and assessment centres

Last week, Hinshaw said the province was expanding its capacity for testing; the limit had previously been 200 tests a day.

“We’re in the middle of calibrating and determining if there are some tests that are not clinically necessary that we can stop doing in order to free up capacity to focus on COVID testing,” Hinshaw said last Friday.

On Tuesday, Hinshaw said that other provinces have reported difficulties in sourcing lab supplies and that Alberta is closely monitoring the situation here.

A look at the provincial lab in Calgary where samples are tested for the coronavirus. Courtesy/Alberta Health Services
A look at the provincial lab in Calgary where samples are tested for the coronavirus. Courtesy/Alberta Health Services
A look at the provincial lab in Calgary where samples are tested for the coronavirus. Courtesy/Alberta Health Services
A look at the provincial lab in Calgary where samples are tested for the coronavirus. Courtesy/Alberta Health Services

On Monday, Hinshaw said Alberta hospitals have been preparing in the event more ICU capacity is needed to respond to coronavirus cases.

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“Things like ventilators, for example, have been retained so we have extra ventilator capacity beyond what we typically would. Our health system does pandemic planning on a regular basis to be ready for these kinds of events,” she said.

WATCH: An ICU isolation room at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, Alta. where someone would be treated if seriously ill with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus ICU isolation room at a Calgary hospital' Coronavirus ICU isolation room at a Calgary hospital
Coronavirus ICU isolation room at a Calgary hospital – Mar 11, 2020

READ MORE: Alberta officials expand list of countries for coronavirus testing protocols

Hinshaw also said last month that the province had ordered extra masks in addition to the stockpile that is always maintained.

In a statement to Global News last month, a spokesperson for Alberta Health said there are 374 isolation rooms distributed throughout Alberta however notes that the coronavirus spreads through person-to-person contact.

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READ MORE: Is Canada ready for a widespread coronavirus outbreak? Yes and no, experts say

“Those rooms are used when a patient has an illness that can be spread through airborne means. The current evidence indicates that this illness is not airborne but spread through droplet and contact means,” reads the statement.

A look inside the ICU isolation room at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary. Courtesy/Alberta Health Services
A look inside the ICU isolation room at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary. Courtesy/Alberta Health Services
A look inside the ICU isolation room at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary. Courtesy: Alberta Health Services
A look inside the ICU isolation room at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary. Courtesy/Alberta Health Services
A look inside the ICU isolation room at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary. Courtesy/Alberta Health Services
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