Alberta’s total number of COVID-19 cases has surpassed 3,000 and the number of cases linked to two meat plants in the province continues to rise as well, according to the province’s chief medical officer of health.
At a news conference in Edmonton on Tuesday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province has recorded 187 new cases over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number to 3,095.
Of the confirmed cases, 2,204 have been in the Calgary zone, 446 in the Edmonton zone, 200 in the South zone, 148 in the North zone, 77 in the Central zone and in 20 cases, the zone has yet to be confirmed.
There are currently 64 people in hospital with COVID-19, 18 have been admitted to intensive care units.
According to Alberta Health, 281 cases are suspected of being community-acquired.
Hinshaw said 515 cases are linked Cargill’s meat plant near High River – 401 of those cases involving workers — and 77 to the JBS plant near Brooks. There are now 29 outbreaks confirmed at continuing care homes in Alberta that have resulted in 367 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Speaking about the High River outbreak, Hinshaw said Alberta Health Services is working on a process through which people who may not be able to self-isolate in their own homes can find other accommodations.
She added that teams of health officials on the ground have been working with the meat plants on investigating cases.
“With respect to the High River Cargill plant, again, my understanding from my colleagues is that the outbreak was identified and a worksite visit was conducted in early April to go through all of the different measures to prevent spread with respect to distancing barriers like Plexiglas barriers [and] personal protective equipment,” Hinshaw said.
Hinshaw said Tuesday that two more people with COVID-19 have died, bringing the province’s pandemic death toll to 61. One of two new fatalities involved a resident at the JB Wood Continuing Care facility in High Prairie.
Alberta Health later confirmed the fatality in the North zone was a man in his 80s while the other fatality was in the Calgary zone. The person who died there was also a man in his 80s.
“I want to offer my sympathies to the family and friends of these two individuals,” Hinshaw said.
Of Alberta’s COVID-19 deaths, 41 have been in the Calgary zone, 10 in the North zone, nine in the Edmonton zone and one in the Central zone. Thirty-nine fatalities have been residents at continuing care facilities.
Update on outbreak at Kearl Lake oilsands operation
The number of confirmed cases at the Kearl Lake oilsands operation in northern Alberta is at 20.
“As a precaution, with respect to the Kearl work camp, all workers who were at that location prior to April 16 when the outbreak was confirmed and control measures were put in place must self-isolate for 14 days after they left the camp,” she said, noting that they may have been exposed to the virus without being aware of it and should monitor for coronavirus symptoms.
Hinshaw said workers who are on-site at the Kearl camp are being swabbed and similar testing is being offered to workers at the Cargill and JBS sites where outbreaks have been confirmed.
She also said AHS and work camp operators improve upon measures already taken to prevent further COVID-19 spread at the site.
“[We are continually] learning to do better every time we see any exposures happening,” Hinshaw said.
On Tuesday, the province began posting the locations and facility names where there are active COVID-19 outbreaks online. For now, only continuing care, long-term care and acute care facilities are being posted but Hinshaw said more types of facilities will be included going forward.
“I know the word ‘outbreak’ may seem alarming, especially when there are a number of them and when some of them show a large number of cases, but it is important to remember that the outbreaks we are posting are any sites where we have seen two or more cases,” she said. “This is usually an indication that transmission has occurred within that facility.
“An outbreak is declared over only when four weeks have passed with no new cases.”
Albertans urged not to become complacent about reducing spread of COVID-19
When asked what she thinks of some Albertans complaining the province’s health measures in response to COVID-19 have been excessive, Hinshaw said that while some people may think the crisis hasn’t been catastrophic enough to warrant the measures, the only reason the situation is not worse is because those measures are in place.
She also said anyone who doesn’t think the novel coronavirus needs to be taken as seriously as it is, should simply think of all those who have died or become seriously ill.
“I completely understand that people are frustrated and wanting to get back to a more normal routine, but you only have to look at places like Italy and New York to see what happens when the virus is not taken seriously and when measures are not put in place to have appropriate distancing,” Hinshaw said. “We do not want that to happen in Alberta.
“We’re currently experiencing some significant outbreaks in a couple of places in the province. So again, ultimately, it really is up to all of us to work together to stop the spread of the virus, to protect ourselves, our families and our neighbours, because, again, this virus kills people and it will kill many more people if we don’t stop it from spreading.”
Hinshaw said Albertans could think of the novel coronavirus as a tidal wave “that could have swept in and left a trail of destruction behind.”
“This didn’t happen because we collectively formed a barrier by our actions to prevent the full force of this wave from striking us,” she said. “As we start to change our behaviour in planning to reopen segments of our society, we need to remember that the potential force of that tidal wave is still there.
“We will need to keep following core elements of the public health measures for many months to come. Even as we plan to open businesses, we need to seek a balance between minimizing virus spread and ensuring our society can function to support the best mental, physical and economic health of all of us.”
Clarification about public health recommendations and guidelines
Hinshaw brought up health recommendations and guidelines related to COVID-19 and tried to offer additional clarity for Albertans who may need it.
She reminded people that they can wear masks in public if they can’t keep two metres away from others, reiterating that the coronavirus spreads through droplets and can be transmitted through sneezing, coughing, laughing, talking and singing.
“I want to emphasize that mask wearing is in addition to, not a replacement for, all other guidance, like regular handwashing, staying home when sick and not touching your face,” Hinshaw said. “Also, masks need to be worn properly in order to work.
“They should cover both the mouth and the nose. They should be put on and taken off with clean hands and promptly disposed of or stored safely in a bag and then washed. Hands should immediately be washed after taking off a mask.”
Hinshaw said health officials are working on more clear guidance for Albertans regarding outdoor activities. She told reporters that people should avoid being near anyone they don’t live with, straying too far from your neighbourhood and reiterated the importance of staying two metres apart.
“In the months since cases first emerged from Wuhan, we have experienced a large volume of information being thrown at us,” she said.
“I appreciate many may feel overwhelmed and unsure of what’s important to know and what information has changed.”
According to Alberta Health, there have been 104,370 people tested for COVID-19 in Alberta. In the last 24 hours, 3,698 tests have been completed.