Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Monday the province was expanding testing to any Albertan who has COVID-19 symptoms.
Any individual exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, fever, runny nose, sore throat or shortness of breath, is now eligible for testing.
Albertans should take the AHS online assessment in order to arrange testing. Calling 811 is not necessary, Hinshaw said. She stressed people should stay home.
She warned that this expanded testing would result in an increase of confirmed daily cases.
But, testing all symptomatic Albertans would also provide a better picture of the spread, Hinshaw said.
“Aggressive testing is essential to controlling the spread,” she said, adding Alberta has “also been purposeful in our testing.”
In Newfoundland, citizens must have two out of a list of COVID-19 symptoms in order to be tested. Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and B.C. still have specific criteria for testing, like recent travel. Officials from other provinces are looking at expanding testing as the pandemic continues.
Hinshaw said Alberta has the lab capacity to complete an average of about 7,400 tests daily and is aiming to have up to 9,000 tests completed a day by the end of the month. By mid- to late May, the goal would be 20,000 tests a day, using a combination of blood tests and swabs.
In the last 24 hours, more than 2,400 lab tests were done, Hinshaw said.
The gap lies in the challenge to acquire equipment for rapid testing and chemicals that are needed for re-agent as well as swabs.
“The supply of those… can fluctuate,” she explained.
To date, Alberta has completed 77,007 tests for COVID-19.
The rate of positive tests has remained fairly consistent, Hinshaw said, at about two per cent. She said the rate of hospitalization and ICU admittance, which has also remained stable, is one of the most accurate representations of the trend.
As of Monday, 47 people were in hospital, 14 of whom were in intensive care units (ICU).
The province previously expanded testing to include anyone in the Calgary zone with symptoms, anyone who is over 65 years old with symptoms or anyone who lives with someone over 65 and who has symptoms, anyone feeling ill in continuing care centres, anyone with respiratory issues in hospital and health care workers and first responders.
“We will carefully monitor the volume of completed tests and may need to make adjustments,” Hinshaw said.
But, she said as long as Alberta can maintain its testing and lab capacity, it would continue to test all Albertans with COVID-19 symptoms.
All testing is done in the provincial laboratories in Edmonton and Calgary. Swab samples are collected at AHS assessment centres and health-care facilities across the province. AHS says it takes about 22 to 24 hours after a lab gets a sample to have the result. That turnaround time has been consistent for the past 10 days, AHS said.
On Monday, Alberta Health announced 81 new cases had been confirmed, bringing the provincial total to 1,732.
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Hinshaw said 877 people had recovered and 254 of the total cases are suspected to be the result of community transmission.
Two additional deaths from the disease were announced Monday: a woman in her 80s in the Carewest Sarcee Continuing Care facility in Calgary and a man in his 80s in the Calgary zone who was not a resident of a continuing care centre.
The total number of deaths in Alberta was 46.
“This is a difficult time,” Hinshaw said. “The loss of these lives is a reminder of why we are taking the restrictions we are now.
“I want to say ‘thank you’ to all of you for doing your part… You have helped save lives.”
How long will this last?
Hinshaw was asked if she had any estimate for Albertans as to how long the restrictions on some non-essential businesses, social gatherings and physical distancing would remain in place.
“We know these restrictions are not easy, that they’re causing hardship. We’re making plans to ease them off,” she said, explaining Alberta will only do that when the numbers support that change and when the infrastructure is in place to reduce further spread.
“If we release our hold on restrictions too soon… we could undo all of the work and all of the sacrifices we’ve collectively made to get to this point.”
She said the impact on lives will continue “for many months to come,” but what exactly that impact looks like will change.
“It’s because of you that we are so successful,” she said.
“The reason that we’ve been more successful than other jurisdictions is because Albertans have been willing to make sacrifices to protect the greater good, to protect their neighbours and their loved ones.”
Hinshaw said the measures, like distancing, will not last forever.
“We are watching our numbers closely and we are in active discussions about what kinds of things we might be able to ease up on if we continue to have a trend of numbers that are declining over a several-week period.”
She explained the cancellation of large group events, like the Fringe Festival, isn’t a surprise. Hinshaw explained those “super spreader” social events that involve travel won’t likely happen for a while.
“Those kind of restrictions I would anticipate will be in place for some time.
“However, restrictions about other activities, workplaces — those are the kinds of things we’re looking at — how can we ease off on some of those things at the appropriate time so that we can have a little more of normal return of our day-to-day?”