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Alberta sees 98 new COVID-19 cases; may be added benefit in wearing mask

Alberta’s Dr. Hinshaw lays out best practices for wearing face masks to slow COVID-19 spread
WATCH: Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, discusses best practices and procedures for wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alberta has seen 98 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, Premier Jason Kenney said Monday. The total number of confirmed cases in Alberta sits at 1,348.

The province has recorded one additional death connected to the novel coronavirus, Kenney added.

The victim is a woman in her 80s in the Calgary zone, the 11th death at McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.

READ MORE: Families beg for more staff amid 4 more deaths at McKenzie Towne care home

Still, Kenney said the number of hospitalizations due to the virus “remains low and manageable,” with 40 people currently in hospital, 16 of which are in intensive care. He said the lower number of hospitalizations is one of the most encouraging signs on Alberta’s approach.

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More than 300 people in Alberta have recovered, “a significant increase since last week,” Kenney said.

Alberta sees 98 new cases of COVID-19, another death at McKenzie care centre Monday
Alberta sees 98 new cases of COVID-19, another death at McKenzie care centre Monday

Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said 204 cases are believed to the result of community transmission.

READ MORE: Alberta Health reports 69 new COVID-19 cases, bringing provincial total to 1,250

The premier said Alberta expects the peak several weeks from now and that the actions we take now will dictate what that peak looks like and how bad it will be.

Kenney will give a public televised addressed Tuesday evening during which he will outline some of the Alberta health modelling and what kind of scenarios officials are preparing for.

READ MORE: Kenney to present Albertans with COVID-19 projections during televised address Tuesday

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Expanded testing priorities

She said Alberta’s rate of COVID-19 testing is second only to Australia.

In addition to testing many people, Hinshaw said Alberta is being purposeful in its testing.

Alberta Health is expanding its testing priorities to include people with symptoms who work in group homes, shelters, first responders including firefighters, provincial and federal corrections officers, and those involved in COVID-19 enforcement including bylaw and peace officers.

Albertans showing symptoms who are over the age of 65 are also included in the expanded eligibility, which comes into effect Tuesday morning. People must still take the online assessment, which will direct them to 811, then approve patients for a COVID-19 test.

Alberta updates COVID-19 testing priorities
Alberta updates COVID-19 testing priorities

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Face masks for public

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Hinshaw said in addition to physical distancing, wearing a non-medical face mask “may provide added benefit.”

“Please continue to stay home,” she stressed.

Still, when out at the grocery store, for instance, people can wear a non-medical face covering. She said it wouldn’t protect the person wearing it but could protect others around them in the case of possible asymptomatic spread.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Wearing non-medical masks will help others but not you, Tam says

Hinshaw said asymptomatic spread is happening more than first thought.

Including a face mask in Alberta Health’s suggested options for protection was done “based on a review of the best evidence possible.”

She said physical distancing and hand washing is still the best protection. If people are always two metres away from others, a mask isn’t necessary and could actually cause more harm. They could provide protection when there are people in closer contact with others and physical distancing cannot be observed.

Alberta officials clarify stance on mask use
Alberta officials clarify stance on mask use

Wash your hands before and after putting the mask on, she said.

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Personal Protective Equipment supplies

“Alberta Health Services and the government of Alberta have been working diligently to build a stock pile of PPE,” the premier said. “We’ve been planning well ahead… We’re in good shape today but to stay that way, I’m announcing measures to ensure we have adequate supplies of the three main respirator masks.”

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He estimates Alberta has a one-month supply of the N95 masks, but that the province is “constantly seeking more supplies” and ordering from suppliers around the world. (N95 masks are respiratory protective devices designed to achieve a very close facial fit, and are efficient at filtrating airborne particles).

He said Alberta has “an adequate supply” of surgical procedural masks, Kenney said. (These are loose-fitting, disposable devices that create a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the person wearing them and potential contaminants in the immediate environment).

He said Alberta is now looking at mask procurement of non-medical masks for public use. (These are cloth, re-washable face coverings that slow the spread of the virus, and help people who may have the virus and not know it, from passing it to others).

READ MORE: Alberta’s ‘Bits and Pieces’ medical supply program recognizes organizations’ help during COVID-19 pandemic

Kenney referenced the success of the Bits and Pieces medical supply program, saying the number of offers has nearly tripled to more than 2,900 just over the weekend.

Offers include commercial vehicles, hotel rooms and mobile trailers, food and water services, hospital gowns, face masks, ventilators and other personal protective equipment.

He said Alberta Apparel, which shifted production to protective gear, is now getting donations of material to make masks.

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Alberta temporarily changes employment rules during COVID-19 emergency
Alberta temporarily changes employment rules during COVID-19 emergency

Changes to employment standards

The premier announced changes to Alberta’s employment standards to offer “protections for workers and job creators.”

Employees caring for children affected by school and daycare closures, or ill Albertans or family members self-isolating due to COVID-19, will have access to unpaid job-protected leave. The 90-day employment requirement is waived and leave length is flexible.

Alberta is increasing the maximum time for a temporary layoff from 60 days to 120 days. This change is retroactive for any temporary layoffs related to COVID-19 that occurred on or after March 17.

The province is also removing the 24-hour written notice requirement for shift changes and the two weeks notice for changes to work schedules for those under an averaging agreement.

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The provincial government is also removing the requirement to provide group termination notice to employees and unions when 50 or more employees are being terminated.

Alberta is also streamlining the process for approvals related to modifying employment standards “so employers and workers can respond quicker to changing conditions at the workplace due to the public health emergency.”

Easter Weekend Rules

  • Avoid gatherings outside of your immediate household
  • Find ways to connect while being physically separated
  • Worship in a way that does not put people at risk, including participating in virtual or live-streamed religious celebrations