There have been four more cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Alberta, bringing the province’s total number of confirmed coronavirus cases to 23, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday.
As major sporting events, concerts and conferences were being cancelled across the country as a result of public health concerns on Thursday, the Alberta government said in a news release that it is “asking all large gatherings or international events in the province to be cancelled” while also urging Albertans not to travel outside Canada.
“These are extraordinary circumstances and our public health measures must rise to the challenge we face,” Hinshaw said. “That is why, effective immediately, the emergency management cabinet committee has approved my recommendation that all large gatherings of more than 250 people or international events in the province are to be cancelled.”
Hinshaw said the measure does not apply to places of worship, airports or shopping centres. At this time, Hinshaw said, schools and daycares can remain open but schools are urged to not have more than 250 students in one room at any given time.
“We know that the day-to-day routine of families would be significantly disrupted if we were to close schools,” Hinshaw said when asked why schools weren’t being closed.
“With schools, we need to take a little more time to consider the impact that those school closures would have and weigh that against what potential public health benefits we might achieve.”
She said any event with less than 250 attendees can go forward if sanitizing stations are provided, a method of keeping ill people out is implemented and if attendees are kept at some distance from one another.
However, she noted that any event involving 250 people or less needs to be cancelled if it expects international attendees, critical infrastructure staff, seniors or people considered to be at “high-risk.”
Hinshaw called the new steps being taken “aggressive new measures” that are intended to limit the spread of the virus.
“As I mentioned yesterday, COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving public health threat,” she said. “It is more severe than seasonal influenza and more contagious than SARS.
“There is a window of opportunity for Alberta to slow the spread of the virus and thereby protect the health of Albertans. Other countries that have faced this crisis, have proven that immediate public measures are necessary to prevent the spread of the virus and protect public health.”
In addition to urging Albertans not to travel outside of Canada, Hinshaw said that “given the quickly evolving nature of this outbreak, I am recommending that Albertans who are currently outside the country self-isolate… on their return for 14 days after they leave the country that they were visiting.”
She said that advice is for all travellers, regardless of what country or region they were visiting.
New confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alberta
The government said all four of Alberta’s new confirmed coronavirus cases are “travel-related.” Of the 23 total cases, one person is recovering in hospital while all others are in isolation at home.
At Thursday’s news conference, Hinshaw spoke about a child who has been confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus.
According to the government, the child is two years old and from the Calgary Zone and is now recovering at home.
“The child who has tested positive for COVID-19 returned with their family from a vacation in Florida and developed mild symptoms once in Alberta,” the government said in a news release. “The child attended a local daycare from March 2 to 6 and tested positive on March 11.”
The child is expected to make a full recovery, the government noted, adding that the daycare has been temporarily closed and that “all close contacts are self-isolating for 14 days while being monitored by health officials.”
“As a mother myself, I know that a child contracting COVID-19 may be upsetting for some people,” Hinshaw said. “Children are a vulnerable group and when they get sick, it can hit close to home.
“I want to assure all parents that cases of COVID-19 in children are typically mild. Despite that, we need to take the same measures for children that we take for any other case: isolate the person who is ill, find close contacts and ask them to stay home for 14 days while monitoring their symptoms.”
Earlier in the day, a Suncor spokesperson and a government source told Global News that there was a confirmed case of COVID-19 at that company’s daycare centre in Calgary, and that it has now been closed until March 23.
The other three cases include a woman in her 30s, a man in his 50s and a woman in her 70s. All are from the Calgary zone and had returned from travelling in Jordan, Egypt, France, Germany and the United States.
The government said any Albertan who has not been contacted directly by Alberta Health Services is not at risk.
Hinshaw reminded Albertans not to visit long-term care facilities or loved ones in hospital and also to practice good hygiene: washing hands regularly and avoiding touching your face. She also said Albertans will want to make a plan so that they are prepared in the event they need to be quarantined or self-isolate for two weeks.
She added that the pandemic will unfold over “many weeks and months” and that Albertans will have mental health supports available to them.
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Watch below: Some Global News videos about coronavirus concerns in Alberta.