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Alberta bans most visits to hospitals as 5 more people die of COVID-19

WATCH ABOVE: Some videos from a news conference about Alberta's response to the COVID-19 crisis on Friday afternoon.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health announced Friday that — with some exceptions — the province is now banning visits to hospital patients in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. The move came as Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced there have been more casualties related to the pandemic in the province.

“[It is] ever more important that we are minimizing the chance that someone may unwittingly bring the virus to a hospital,” Hinshaw said at a news conference in Edmonton. She noted that exceptions will be considered on a case-by-case basis when it comes to sick children or pregnant women.

“The fewer people who come to any given place, the more the chances are reduced,” she said.

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Alberta Health officials also told media that the province is no longer allowing any visitors to continuing care homes in the province. Exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis in cases where someone is dying. Previously, the province had allowed for one designated visitor per resident.

Five more Albertans have died after becoming ill with COVID-19, bringing the total number of novel coronavirus-related deaths in the province to 18, Premier Jason Kenney said at the same afternoon news conference.

“We offer our condolences to all of those whose loved ones’ lives have been lost in the last week,” Kenney said.

READ MORE: Live updates: Coronavirus in Canada

Hinshaw also offered her condolences to the loved ones of those who died.

“We can honour these people by recommitting to social distancing and staying home whenever possible,” she added.

Of the five new deaths, Hinshaw said four of the fatalities are linked to the McKenzie Towne care home in Calgary where deaths have previously been reported. She said the other victim was a woman in her 20s in the Edmonton zone.

Hinshaw said it is “not clear at this time if she had any underlying health conditions.”

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“This is a tragic reminder that it is not only the elderly or those with underlying conditions who are at risk,” she said.

Of the new fatalities linked to the McKenzie Towne care home, the government said the people who died were two women in their 80s, a man in his 80s and a man in his 90s.

READ MORE: Alberta has 13 deaths due to COVID-19, including 4 at McKenzie Towne Continuing Care

Hinshaw said she has heard some people in Alberta suggest that young people do not have to be as concerned about the novel coronavirus as much as others, however, she said young people are also getting sick and that everyone needs to take the health crisis seriously as the coronavirus pandemic still has so many unknowns to it.

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“I have heard questions about whether we should try to let spread happen in young and healthy groups to increase our population’s immunity over time,” she said. “I completely understand this question, but the problem is that we don’t know who will have a severe case of this disease.

“Some people who are young and healthy will go on to have severe disease and even die, so until we have more information about who may be at greatest risk, and more evidence about treatments, the best way to prevent severe illness is for all of us to perform physical distancing, stay home when possible, to avoid non-essential activities.

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“The world learns more every day about COVID-19,” she said.

“We cannot say for certain, but we should expect that we will be responding to this infection for many months.”

Kenney said Alberta has 107 more confirmed COVID-19 cases since 24 hours ago, bringing the total number to 1,075 cases since the pandemic hit the province.

At the same time, the premier noted 196 of those cases have now seen people recover.

Of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alberta, 671 have been in the Calgary zone, 263 have been in the Edmonton zone, 62 have been in the Central zone, 57 have been in the North zone, 16 have been in the South zone and in six instances, the zone has yet to be determined. Of these cases, 39 people are currently in hospital with 15 currently in intensive-care units.

“We are reaching the point where we have enough data to inform credible modelling about potential paths of the pandemic in Alberta,” Kenney said. “We intend to deliver those details of our models early next week.

“I can assure Albertans today, however, that the modelling indicates that we have the health-care equipment, personnel and supplies needed to cope with anticipated hospitalizations, including in intensive care units and including the usage of ventilators.”

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There have been questions about the potential vulnerability that homeless people and prison inmates have to contracting COVID-19. Hinshaw said Friday that to date, she has not been made aware of any infections in either of those populations.

Over 60,000 COVID-19 tests have now been conducted in Alberta since the public health crisis began. Kenney said that equates to a testing rate of 13,600 per million, which is higher than any other province.

According to Kenney, the rate of total identified infections in Alberta is at 243 per million, a number he acknowledged is higher than the global rate, which is 138 per million.

“But many countries around the world are not testing at significant numbers,” he noted, adding Alberta’s rate is also lower than Italy, Spain and the U.S.

Kenney said the province is handling the COVID-19 crisis “better than most.”

The premier also spoke of several companies offering their help in what he described as a wartime-like effort to respond to the pandemi​c.

On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it is recommending that all Americans wear masks during the pandemic. Hinshaw was asked about the development and spoke about the ins and outs of why masks are helpful and how they are not. She said she expects to provide a formal recommendation about masks next week.

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Hinshaw also spoke Friday about hearing reports that some health-care workers are being discriminated against in a number of situations because some people believe they pose a risk of spreading of COVID-19.

“This discrimination even includes threats of eviction from their homes,” she said.

Hinshaw assured Albertans that she believes all health-care workers are taking every precaution possible to mitigate their chance of spreading the illness.

“These trained professionals are going above and beyond to stop the spread of the virus, both at their work places and in their homes,” she said. “The practices many of us are still adjusting to, including proper handwashing and other preventive measures, have always been part of health-care professionals’ daily lives.

“Instead of being afraid, we should continue to work together and be prepared to prevent the spread, stay informed and flatten the curve.”

Hinshaw offered praise for health-care workers in the province, whom she said are all “doing a tremendous job in a very difficult time.”

Kenney also offered thanks to “the skill and effort of Alberta’s front-line health-care workers and the co-operation of the vast majority of Albertans in doing their part to contain the spread of the virus.”

“Let me say thank you to everybody who has carefully followed the health-care rules, the protocol advice, the hygiene rules, the public health orders.”

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More to come…