With 67 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, Alberta total reaches 486

Hinshaw explains why Albertans need to take COVID-19 situation seriously
WATCH ABOVE: Alberta's top doctor, Deena Hinshaw, explains why Albertans need to take COVID-19 seriously even though numbers of confirmed cases may seem low.

In her daily update, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said Thursday there were 486 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the province.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said it had been three weeks since Alberta saw its first case of COVID-19.

Of those 486 cases, 34 are believed to be the result of community transmission. Twenty-one people are in hospital and 10 of them are in the intensive care unit.

READ MORE: 2 more positive COVID-19 cases at Calgary care home have community on edge

There are a total of 14 confirmed cases connected to the McKenzie Towne Community Care Centre in Calgary — where there was a fatality earlier this week. Eight residents had tested positive on Wednesday. They are now self-isolating and receiving care.

“We can confirm 27 Albertans have recovered from COVID-19,” she said. “We are working on streamlining the process for reporting recovered cases.”

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She clarified those 27 recovered cases are included in the total 486 individuals who have ever tested positive in Alberta.

Hinshaw was asked what she would say to people who feel the risk isn’t that great – that officials are possibly overreacting to a virus with 486 confirmed cases.

She firmly pointed out that of those 486, 10 are patients in intensive care, which is incredibly serious.

“We know that many people who get this will get very sick and some of them will die…We have to take this action now to prevent us from getting to that place” where hospitals and health-care systems are overwhelmed.

Dr. Hinshaw explains why Alberta is more focused on community transmissions of COVID-19
Dr. Hinshaw explains why Alberta is more focused on community transmissions of COVID-19

Hinshaw referenced other responses around the world and said she’d rather Alberta model Singapore than see something similar to what happened in Italy.

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She also pointed out the concerns with community transmission — there are dozens of cases with unknown sources.

“That community transmission, that is out there right now, that we’re trying to get a better understanding of… that will drive more ICU cases.

“We don’t have a vaccine for this… or a treatment that we know can cure this disease.”

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AHS is working as fast as it can to free up space in health-care facilities, increase capacity and use every doctor, nurse and staff member in the best way it can.

AHS vice-president Dr. Mark Joffe said there are roughly 8,500 hospital beds in the province. About 2,250 of those are being set aside for COVID-19 patients. Those beds will come from the 8,500 total but AHS is also looking at closed hospital wards to see if those areas could be used.

Joffe also said AHS is looking at potentially using hotel space to further isolate people with the virus whose regular living conditions would mean they might put others at risk.

Alberta Health Services looking for spaces in the event more are needed
Alberta Health Services looking for spaces in the event more are needed

Hinshaw said labs across the province have been completing over 3,000 tests a day.

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She said the health system is responding “remarkably” and there are “countless unsung heroes behind the scenes.”

READ MORE: Alberta ramping up enforcement of public health orders; number of confirmed COVID-19 cases climbs to 419

She thanked the contract tracers in all zones for their tireless work tracing back from all the confirmed cases of COVID-19 and trying to determine the source and possible spread and other close contacts. She thanked all those AHS workers, handling Health Link, home care workers, and front-line workers.

“I give my heartfelt admiration for health-care workers in this province working to respond to this virus,” Hinshaw said.

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Hinshaw announced an additional online assessment tool was being launched Friday morning – this one specifically for health-care workers. It will be available at 

READ MORE: ‘Please stay home’: Alberta hospital workers plead with public amid COVID-19 pandemic

“It’s not just health-care workers who are heroes in this response,” she added, singling out first responders, municipal staff, custodians, social agencies and Indigenous communities.

“All of these have undertaken tremendous work to support this response and protect Albertans… Thank you for all you are doing.”​

On Wednesday, Premier Jason Kenney said the province’s total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases had increased by 61 compared to a day earlier, bringing the total to 419.

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Alberta has recorded two deaths related to the novel coronavirus as of Thursday.

The provincial government amended the procedures regulation under the Provincial Offences Procedures Act on Wednesday to empower law enforcement officers like community peace officers and police officers to issue tickets enforcing public health orders.

Fines for violating an order can now run as high as $1,000 per offence, while courts will also be able to levy fines of up to $100,000 for a first offence and up to $500,000 for a subsequent offence for “more serious violations.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

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. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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— With files from Global News’ Phil Heidenreich