A man in his 60s from the Edmonton zone has become Alberta’s first fatal COVID-19 case, the province’s chief medical officer of health said Thursday.
The man had underlying health conditions, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said at a news conference to update Albertans on the spread of the novel coronavirus in the province. She added that the man’s case does not appear to be travel-related and it’s believed he acquired the illness in the community.
“This individual was admitted in the ICU in the Edmonton zone on March 12 and passed away late yesterday,” Hinshaw said. “This is extremely sad news. And all of us involved in Alberta’s COVID response feel this very deeply. All of our thoughts are with this man’s family and loved ones.
“As heartbreaking as this news is, it was expected. This is a dangerous virus.”
Alberta is the fourth province in Canada to have recorded a death linked to COVID-19.
Hinshaw said while most people who become ill with COVID-19 will only have minor symptoms, one only needs to look at the rising death toll because of COVID-19 in Italy to see how serious the illness is.
Hinshaw said the province’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has jumped by 27 since the day before, and on Thursday stood at 146. She noted that two of Alberta’ COVID-19 cases have now seen the people who became ill recover.
Alberta Health said Thursday that of the 146 cases, 101 are in the Calgary zone, 29 are in the Edmonton zone, 10 are in the North zone, three are in the Central zone and three are in the South zone.
Hinshaw also answered questions about a curling bonspiel in Edmonton last weekend that saw doctors from across Western Canada take part. She confirmed a doctor from Saskatchewan who attended the event has tested positive for COVID-19. She said it’s believed the presence of COVID-19 at the bonspiel may be related to a Canadian doctor recently having returned from a trip to Las Vegas.
She said there were 72 curlers at the bonspiel and that the event was followed by a banquet where 45 people attended. However, Hinshaw said that as of this point, none of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alberta have been positively linked to the event.
The bonspiel happened at the Granite Club in Old Strathcona, Global News has confirmed.
When asked how the confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis related to the bonspiel would impact the health-care workforce in Alberta, Hinshaw said it was too soon to say.
“Certainly it’s something I’m mindful of that could have an impact,” she said, adding an investigation is underway and officials are trying to determine where each doctor was from and whether people will be able to cover for them as all attendees now need to self-isolate for 14 days.
“It’s concerning and we’re taking it seriously.”
Dr. Mark Joffe, who joined Hinshaw at the news conference, acknowledged that Alberta health officials had received a tip about someone attending the Pacific Dental Conference in Vancouver earlier this month who later refused to self-isolate, even though several COVID-19 cases have been linked to the event.
He said officials received the tip on March 16 and were finally able to make contact with the person accused of not self-isolating on Thursday. They said he is now in isolation.
Hinshaw said she and other health officials are currently working with Alberta Justice to come up with ways of enforcing new self-isolation and capacity-related orders going forward.
She stressed Albertans should not call 811 or 911 to report people who are not following the measures but said she hopes to have a method for people to report tips soon.
Hinshaw also asked Albertans not to take vigilante action over people caught not obeying new rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“We will get through this,” she said. “But to do that, we need everyone’s help.
“Take this seriously. Stay home, unless it is essential for you to go out. Now is not the time for social gatherings. Practise social distancing if you do have to go out.”
Hinshaw also said she believes the looming closure of the U.S.-Canada border – except for cargo transport – will help in the fight against the coronavirus as it will further restrict people’s movement.
Alberta also continues to increase its COVID-19 testing capacity, Hinshaw said, adding that does not mean everyone with a cough or runny nose will be able to get tested.
In a news release on Thursday, Alberta Health addressed questions about the use of ibuprofen among people who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
“Currently, there is no strong evidence to indicate ibuprofen could make COVID-19 symptoms worse beyond the usual known side-effects that limit the use of ibuprofen in certain populations,” the news release said. “Albertans should consult with a doctor about what is best for them.”
Alberta optometrists and radiologists take steps to address spread of COVID-19
Thursday saw more groups representing Alberta health-care professions announce new measures they are taking to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Alberta College of Optometrists said access to optometry services has already been restricted to “critical services at select clinics across all regions of the province.”
The ACO noted some clinics will also be closing entirely for six weeks based on advice from infectious disease experts.
“We are committed to safeguarding the health and safety of all Albertans, optometrists, and staff during this pandemic,” said ACO president Dr. Nasir Khan.
The ACO said those clinics that stay open so Albertnas can still receive “clinically or medically necessary eye exams” will follow “strict infection prevention control protocols.”
“We are trained and equipped to handle the majority of eye and vision issues that present in the hospital. ERs are going to be overstressed,” Khan said. “Anyone suffering eye or vision issues should
contact their local optometrist for appropriate triage, diagnosis, and treatment — before rushing to an ER.
“Working together, we can help Alberta come through this pandemic.”
Dr. Robert Davies, president of the Alberta Society of Radiologists, also issued a news release Thursday saying, Albertans will still be able to rely on outpatient services at community clinic sites but also noted that in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, Albertans should not expect a chest x-ray or CT scan of their chest if they are worried about COVID-19.
“The best test is a swab of your nose or throat,” he said. “If you have cough, cold, fever or flu symptoms, use the AHS online assessment tool before going to a health facility.”
“If your imaging exam is for a screening mammogram, we are asking patients to delay their upcoming exams, if possible, until at least May 1 2020, as suggested by the Canadian Society of Breast Imaging and Canadian Association of Radiologists.”
Davies said a brief suspension of most screening mammography “will contribute to social distancing and decreased health-care related exposures to COVID-19 at this critical time.”
“We are extending the same advice to automated breast ultrasound for screening, and to bone mineral densitometry,” he added. “Patients and their doctors should consider whether any other non-urgent diagnostic imaging exams or procedures can be safely postponed until the health risks from the COVID-19 pandemic have passed.”
On Tuesday, the Alberta Dental Association and College said that it was suspending all non-emergent treatments and services “effective immediately” because of the COVID-19 crisis.
–With a file from The Canadian Press
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
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