Alberta sees 42 new cases of COVID-19, bringing total to 301 on Monday

Click to play video: 'Alberta’s top doctor clarifies new testing and self-isolation guidelines'
Alberta’s top doctor clarifies new testing and self-isolation guidelines
Dr. Deena Hinshaw discusses the new guidelines for testing and self-isolation protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Alberta. – Mar 23, 2020

On Monday, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced there have been 42 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the province, which brings the total number to 301.

Alberta Health Services believes up to 24 of those cases may have been caused by community transmission. Eighteen people have been hospitalized, with seven in the intensive care unit. Alberta has seen no additional deaths since last week, and it was reported three people have recovered.

Earlier Monday, AHS announced changes to testing protocol. During her update Monday afternoon, Hinshaw announced a change to the length of time people will be required to self-isolate.

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Travellers coming back into the country will still be required to self-isolate for 14 days. What is new is if anyone develops minor symptoms, they must begin to self-isolate for 10 days from the start of those symptoms.

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Click to play video: 'Alberta sees 42 new cases of COVID-19, brings total to 301 on Monday'
Alberta sees 42 new cases of COVID-19, brings total to 301 on Monday

For example, if someone came home and was self-isolating and developed symptoms on day seven, they would then need to self-isolate for 10 days starting on that day, or however long it takes for symptoms to resolve, whichever is longer.

“This new approach, which has been adopted in other provinces, reflects the fact that the number one thing you can do if you have mild symptoms isn’t to get tested, it is to stay home and self-isolate away from others,” Hinshaw said.

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Hinsahw added it was important to remember the majority of people who get COVID-19 will only experience minor symptoms.

AHS has also implemented two new steps to reduce transmission at Alberta hospitals.

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Starting this week, staff, physicians and clinical contractors will be screened before starting their shifts.​ They will be met at the entrance and will have their temperature taken and will be asked to fill out a short questionnaire.

If anyone is unwell, they will be sent home to self-isolate.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: AHS takes steps to minimize transmission of COVID-19 at hospitals'
Coronavirus outbreak: AHS takes steps to minimize transmission of COVID-19 at hospitals

The second step is to expedite certain front-line workers back to work if they are not showing symptoms after self-isolating.

Those who return to work will be subject to even more rigorous temperature checks and will need to wear masks, along with other steps.

“This will only be done in exceptional and limited circumstances where it is absolutely necessary for that front-line care provider to work and where there are no other alternatives for coverage,” Hinshaw said.

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Finally, Hinshaw, once again reiterated the importance of social distancing when out in public, espcially for those who may be planning trips to the provincial parks or mountains.

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“Now is not the time for travel,” she said. “I know that these measures that we have put in place continue to strain families, businesses and all Albertans and I appreciate how hard it is to be separated from friends and family during such stressful times.”

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Dr. Hinshaw cautions Albertans from planning trips to provincial parks'
Coronavirus outbreak: Dr. Hinshaw cautions Albertans from planning trips to provincial parks

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney had similar sentiments for Albertans during his COVID-19 update earlier Monday afternoon, particularly as tens of thousands of snowbirds begin to return home. Kenney urged everyone returning to the country to immediately go into self-isolation.

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“This does not mean going to the grocery store, it does not mean going to the kennel to pick up your dog, it does not mean dropping your RV off at a service company to be serviced, it does not mean going and visiting the grandkids,” he said.

“It means one thing and one thing only: when you come into the country – whether you’re driving north through Coutts or you’re landing at one of our airports – you must go directly and immediately to your home without stopping and if you need supplies at home, if you need groceries or other critical supplies, you’ve got to call family, friends or neighbours to help you out with that, or delivery services.”

Over the weekend, it was suggested Alberta may be getting close to implementing penalties for those who don’t self-isolate if necessary. Kenney didn’t announce any measures on Monday, but said the direction to self-isolate is not “some kind of vague, general suggestion.”

“It is an absolute public health imperative and we are prepared to, if necessary, use stronger legal tools to impose that obligation on people and stronger penalties if they violate that direction of our public health officer.”

Click to play video: 'Kenney issues special warning to snowbirds returning from U.S. to self-isolate'
Kenney issues special warning to snowbirds returning from U.S. to self-isolate

New financial supports for Albertans

Kenney announced further financial supports for employers and property owners on Monday afternoon as the province continues to deal with economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“The last thing Albertans need to worry about right now is their finances, but we know people’s employment is being interrupted and we know people are very anxious about their bank accounts, about their personal budgets, about their future,” Kenney said.

Effective immediately, the government is reversing the increase to the education property tax introduced in the 2020 budget.

According to Kenney, the move will save homeowners about $55 million and another $32 million will be saved by business owners.

“Things have changed drastically and Albertans shouldn’t have to worry about a higher property tax level.”

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson called the move a “helpful gesture,” but said it will, naturally, bring up questions and expectations about the City of Edmonton portion of that tax.

According to a statement issued Tuesday morning, the two-month delay on property taxes, the relief measures on utility bills and “all the extra costs of responding to the COVID-19 crisis,” are already squeezing the city’s reserves and putting the municipal government in a cash crunch.

Iveson said Edmonton, along with the City of Calgary and the Alberta Urban Municiaplities Association, would like to see a “consistent, deeper, widespread property tax relief all across Alberta,” but that they wouldn’t be able to do it alone.

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“However, in order to do this, we would need a substantial commitment from the provincial and/or federal government that they would provide a cash backstop or other measures that makes this relief financially possible for municipalities,” he wrote.

Iveson went on to say that as mayor and chair of Canada’s Big City Mayors Group, he would be actively following up with provincial and federal governments on the need for this support.

On Monday, Kenney also announced the provincial government will also defer its portion of six months worth of taxes on non-residential properties, delaying those taxes until October 2020. Payment plans to allow business owners comfortably pay those taxes back are being set up, Kenney said.

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“We strongly encourage commercial landlords to pass these savings on to business tenants through reduced or deferred lease payments.”

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Kenney also announced changes to Workers Compensation Board premiums for businesses of all sizes.

Private-sector businesses payments will be deferred until the end of this year.

“This will not affect benefits for injured workers, it’s simply a deferral on the premiums for the employers,” Kenney said.

Small and medium private-sector business will only have to pay half of their 2020 premiums, Kenney announced. The government will cover the other half.

Employers who have already paid some of their premiums can request to be refunded, or can have a credit put on their account.

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There were no announcements from the government about supporting renters who may struggle to pay their rent.

As it gets closer and closer to the beginning of the month, calls for the government to put a ban on evictions if a tenant doesn’t pay their rent.

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According to Kenney, there is already a significant backlog on evictions, and most of those are from before the economic challenges caused by the global pandemic.

“Landlords need to be able to continue to protect the value of their property from bad tenants,” Kenney said.

Though he said his government wasn’t looking at hitting pause on eviction orders, he did urge landlords to pass along any savings they may receive either from provincial measures or mortgage payment deferrals.

“We call upon landlords to do the right thing and, wherever possible, extend rent relief during this difficult time to their tenants.

“It makes no economical sense for them to evict tenants for missing April rent given the effective shut down of our economy, because who else is going to fill those units?”

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