One day after telling Albertans that restrictions on mass gatherings will remain in effect at least through summer, the province’s chief medical officer of health defended her recommendation after she said she has heard there has been some public backlash to it.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw spoke about the reaction to her recommendation at a news conference in Edmonton on Friday where she offered an update on Alberta’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.
“I know people are tired and they want to go out,” she told reporters, adding that people can, but must follow public health orders at the same time.
If people don’t adhere to restrictions on mass gatherings and maintain physical distance between themselves and others, Hinshaw said the “results can be explosive, far-reaching and deadly.”
“The message I am hearing is that Albertans have sacrificed so much already, how can I ask them to give up their summer when we don’t know for sure what the situation will be like in one or two months?” she said. “The question of how we came to the decision regarding summer events is a valid one.
“I know the curve shown in our modelling work may have left the impression that the virus will go away over the summer. That is not the case. The virus that causes COVID-19 will be with us for many months to come. And the relatively low case numbers we are seeing in most of the province are the results of our collective efforts and sacrifices. COVID-19 is still with us and it spreads rapidly through social interactions.”
Hinshaw pointed to a curling bonspiel in Edmonton earlier this year and other instances where dozens of people became infected. She said in such cases the problem is often that the source does not know they have COVID-19, even when people at such gatherings exercised safe practices as best they could.
“I hear this loud and clear,” Hinshaw said when speaking about Albertans who are sad or angry to know mass gatherings won’t be allowed this summer.
“We only have each other and our commitment to protect one another.”
Five more deaths related to the COVID-19 pandemic were announced on Friday, bringing Alberta’s coronavirus death toll to 72 in total.
“My sincere condolences go out to everyone grieving the loss of a loved one today,” Hinshaw said.
Three of the most recent fatalities are linked to long-term care facilities.
She added that there have been 297 additional COVID-19 cases confirmed in the past 24 hours, bringing the provincial total to 4,017 since the outbreak began.
Hinshaw said three of the new cases are in a First Nations community in the Calgary zone. She said all those cases involve people who are now in isolation.
“The community is working with Indigenous Services Canada to prevent any spread,” Hinshaw said.
A Facebook post by Bearspaw First Nation confirmed the cases are linked to the Eden Valley community. Another source also confirmed that community as being where the three cases are.
She also noted that two new COVID-19 cases have been linked to Mountain View Poultry in Okotoks.
“All supports are in place to prevent spread in that facility,” Hinshaw said.
Of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alberta, 2,833 have been in the Calgary zone, 466 in the Edmonton zone, 165 in the North zone, 82 in the Central zone and 27 are in zones that are yet to be determined.
Of 76 people in the province currently in hospital because of the novel coronavirus, 18 have been admitted to intensive care units. Three-hundred-fifty cases are suspected of being community-acquired.
Of Alberta’s COVID-19 deaths, 45 have been in the Calgary zone, 14 in the North zone, 10 in the Edmonton zone, two in the South zone and one in the Central zone. Forty-seven of the fatalities have been residents at continuing care facilities.
According to Hinshaw, 1,397 COVID-19 cases in the province have now seen people recover. As of Friday afternoon, there have been 122,447 COVID-19 tests completed in Alberta since the pandemic hit the province.
Hinshaw also spoke to reporters for the second time since the crisis began about the importance of not discriminating against front-line health-care workers and other essential workers amid the pandemic out of fear they present a health risk.
“For example, those affected by the outbreak in High River,” she said. “Not everyone who works at Cargill is a close contact of a confirmed case. There is no reason to assume that everyone connected to that facility is infected.
“These individuals are not in mandated isolation unless they are a confirmed case or a close contact of a confirmed case, and should not be restricted from accessing businesses such as grocery stores or banks when necessary.”
Hinshaw said people impacted by outbreaks “need support and compassion as we work to stop further spread.”
“The same is true of all those working at continuing care sites experiencing outbreaks, including health-care workers and many others,” she added.
“This also is true of those who may have the illness or a close contact of someone who has it.”
On Friday, Hinshaw also said that “in the interests of transparency,” Alberta Health will begin posting health-care worker case numbers online next week.
“These statistics will only reflect information from AHS staff,” she said.