Premier Jason Kenney said Wednesday that two more fatalities connected to the novel coronavirus had been confirmed in Alberta, bringing the total number of deaths to 11.
“Our deepest sympathies go out to the loved ones of those who have been lost,” he said.
READ MORE: Live updates: Coronavirus in Canada
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said the two individuals were a man in his 80s in the North zone and a man in his 80s in the Calgary zone, who was a resident at Carewest Glenmore Park.
She also expressed her heartfelt condolences to their family and friends.
“It is a call to action to do everything we can to stop the spread and limit the transmission.”
The premier called this the toughest week yet in Alberta.
Kenney also announced 117 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, bringing Alberta’s total number of confirmed cases to 871.
He said the large jump in cases “is due mainly to the fact that Alberta Health Services processed a large number of backlogged tests… over the past 24 hours.”
There was a shortage of reagent, the chemical used to process lab tests, because of a delayed shipment over the weekend.
The shipment arrived Monday. Between Tuesday and Wednesday, AHS processed over 4,500 lab tests. As of April 1, a total of 53,141 people have been tested for COVID-19.
“We need to be upfront with Albertans: the hard truth is that things will get worse before they get better,” Kenney said.
But, he said, “Alberta’s pandemic approach is strong.”
Hinshaw said 94 of the total cases may be the result of community transmission.
On Wednesday, there were 29 people in hospital, with 13 admitted to intensive care units.
Hinshaw said 142 cases are individuals who have now recovered.
Hinshaw said her greatest concern is for those people in continuing care facilities. There are 41 cases of COVID-19 in these centres, she said. And four sites are considered outbreaks: McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre in Calgary (35 cases), Carewest Glenmore Park (one case), Father Lacombe Care Centre (one case) and Shepherd’s Care Kensington Village in Edmonton (four cases).
She said the Carewest Glenmore Park and Kensington Village facilities have had no new cases “for many days.”
She said continuing care facilities are being closely monitored and more robust protocols are being enforced.
What do the numbers mean?
While there was a large number of new cases reported Wednesday due to a backlog of swabs, Hinshaw said the daily numbers aren’t an accurate reflection of the number of people who fall ill every day.
“What we’re seeing is numbers that have been compressed,” she explained.
But seeing a total of 871 for Alberta is not good, she said.
“I think [Albertans] should be concerned. I am concerned.”
A statistic that has remained relatively constant over the last several days, she said, is the percentage of positive tests out of the total number of COVID-19 swabs taken: two per cent.
“People should be as concerned about the number of cases we have today as they were about the number of cases yesterday and the day before, because our per cent positivity this week has been relatively stable,” Hinshaw said. “So the total number, again, is a reflection simply of the number of cases that were tested. And all of those cases are concerning.”
By the end of this week, Hinshaw said she hopes to give Albertans a better idea as to what the data means.
“We did just change our testing protocols earlier this week,” she said. “And so by the end of this week, my plan is to be able to tell Albertans what does this data mean? How should we be reacting with respect to — are there particular locations or groups that we think are more at risk? And does this change in terms of our focus on particular areas?”
The premier added that because Alberta completes so many tests, it’s also going to show a relatively higher number of confirmed infections.
“That is unfortunate. And every one of those cases concerns us,” Kenney said. “But it also means we have more information to use to trace, control and contain positive cases.
“We expect to see the number of tests being done in Alberta to continue to increase… we have some new and different supplies on order… The number of infected cases will likely go up as the number of tests goes up. So as long as we see a relatively constant percentage of tests coming up positive, we shouldn’t be too alarmed because as the number of tests goes up, what we’re really seeing is a more effective health system so we can control the spread.”
Kenney said another testing method was coming soon.
“Alberta Health Services expects to take delivery, within days, of new COVID-19 rapid testing kits that will expand our capacity by thousands of tests per day. The more we test, the better informed we’ll be about where the numbers are headed and the better we can plan for the health-care response.”
Watch: ‘These behaviours must stop’: Hinshaw issues warning to doctors over prescriptions
More child care spaces opening
The province announced Wednesday it was expanding eligibility for select licensed child care centres to support all essential service workers.
Spaces were previously opened for front-line health-care workers, critical infrastructure workers and first responders. Now, spots will be opened for children of those who work in critical areas outlined as essential by the province. Click here for a full list of those jobs.
Parents who work in these areas can contact the child care centres that are open in their communities. An updated list of these centres can be found here (under Info for Albertans).
The facilities will be limited to 30 people, including staff, and they must all adhere to strengthened sanitary rules and health protocols.
Helping Alberta truck drivers, the ‘unsung heroes’
Kenney made a point to thank truck drivers for ensuring Albertans still receive all the essential products – food, cleaning supplies, medical equipment — they need during this time.
He described them as the “unsung heroes” of this pandemic.
“On behalf of the government and the people of Alberta, I want to salute and thank those truck drivers for all that they are doing under trying circumstances during this pandemic,” the premier said.
He also said he’s reaching out to fast-food restaurants and other businesses along highways to consider changes to their operations to make curb-side food orders and washroom services more accessible to truck drivers.
“These drivers are working long hours away from home on long-haul trips. We need to keep them fed, fuelled and rested,” Kenney said.
He also mentioned some rest stops had closed bathrooms and other facilities because people were stealing sanitizer, soap and other supplies from the washrooms.
“Please show some basic decency and some basic consideration,” the premier said.
“Don’t do stupid things like that that just make life harder for truckers to keep us supplied all across Alberta society.
“We’re trusting people just to show some decency in reopening those rest stops. Today, I’m also calling on restaurants to temporarily allow heavy truck and long-haul drivers to walk up to the drive-thru window to place their order and allow them access to washrooms.”