Coronavirus: Alberta sees ‘daily numbers declining’ but Hinshaw urges caution

Alberta announces 54 new cases and 2 deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday
WATCH: Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, provides an update on the province's response to COVID-19 for May 7, 2020.

On Thursday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said 54 new cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Alberta, bringing the provincial total to 6,017.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said of those, 3,809 people had recovered.

READ MORE: What Albertans can and can’t do as COVID-19 restrictions ease

Two more Albertans died from the virus, bringing the provincial death toll to 114.

“I want to extend my condolences to the family and friends of these individuals,” Hinshaw said.

Alberta Health said the two individuals who died were a woman in her 90s from Agecare Sunrise Gardens and a man in his 70s from the Calgary zone.

As of Thursday, 85 people were in hospital, 18 of whom had been admitted to intensive care units.

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Kenney says Alberta will take a look at local data for relaunch
Kenney says Alberta will take a look at local data for relaunch

She said that “with the daily numbers declining lately,” she’s heard from faith communities who would like to gather again.

However, she stressed caution, particularly with anyone considering gathering in groups of 15 or fewer.

Hinshaw shared an example of a faith community that met in early March, followed all the rules regarding hand washing, physical distancing of two metres and only had a few servers wearing gloves distributing food. No one there felt sick at the time, she said.

Still, out of the group of 41, 21 ended up testing positive for COVID-19, three were admitted to hospital and two died.

Alberta sees ‘daily numbers declining’ but Dr. Hinshaw urges caution
Alberta sees ‘daily numbers declining’ but Dr. Hinshaw urges caution

“I share this story as a cautionary tale and an example of how informal gatherings, even when trying to follow distancing rules, can result in large spreading events.

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“I know we are all missing being together in ways that we once took for granted.

“Despite this, I am asking you to remain cautious. I am asking you to keep being creative about other ways of connecting and sharing meaningful moments,” Hinshaw said.

READ MORE: Edmonton golfers hit the links with strict new safety protocols

“Gatherings of no more than 15 are allowed, but as you plan ways of connecting, please consider all your options and make sure any gathering that happens in person is well planned and ensures physical distancing — no sharing of food or drink, and make sure you’re thinking about ways for those who are at higher risk of COVID-19 … to participate remotely.”

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As the relaunch begins, and weather improves, Hinshaw said her message is shifting from “stay home” to “stay safe.”

“People have been — and should be — getting outside, enjoying the outdoors… There are some additional opportunities for people to get services… more opportunities for activities.”

Golfers hit the links with strict new safety protocols
Golfers hit the links with strict new safety protocols

Still, Hinshaw warned that people over 75 or those with chronic medical conditions need to be cautious and to consider where they’re going and if it’s necessary.

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She said everyone will be taking all the information they’ve learned and best practices like physical distancing, hand washing, staying home when sick, and applying those things as we move forward into the “new normal.”

Support for farmers and ranchers through AgriRecovery

Premier Jason Kenney acknowledged the challenges Alberta farmers and ranchers are facing.

Not only are they affected by the economic recession, but are now also facing huge backlogs in livestock and produce like potatoes, due to restaurants shutting down over COVID-19 and because of outbreaks in meat-processing plants.

READ MORE: Potato surplus and halted processing impacts new Alberta crops

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Kenney said the current situation is “jeopardizing the industry.”

“One of the things I think we’re all learning is to appreciate a lot of things that we’ve taken for granted in our lives, including food security.”

AgriRecovery is a federal-provincial-territorial program intended to help agricultural producers recover from natural disasters. AgriRecovery initiatives are cost-shared 60-40 between federal and provincial governments.

Kenney announces help for Alberta cattle industry
Kenney announces help for Alberta cattle industry

On May 5, the federal government launched a national AgriRecovery initiative of up to $125 million in funding to help cattle and hog producers faced with extraordinary costs incurred by COVID-19.

READ MORE: Canadian farmers mull euthanasia for animals as coronavirus slows processing

Kenney said a new fed cattle set-aside program will let beef producers hold slaughter-ready cattle on maintenance feed ration for several weeks, allowing the supply of animals to more evenly match demand and reduced processing capacity.

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Cattle producers will be compensated until the backed-up inventory is cleared.

Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Devin Dreeshen, explained this is a cost-share program, with the federal government contributing $26 million and Alberta contributing $17 million.

READ MORE: Canada’s food industry leaders say $252M aid falls short of need amid COVID-19

“Alberta currently has over 100,000 market-ready cattle waiting to be processed and that number continues to increase substantially every day,” said Kelly Smith-Fraser, chair of Alberta Beef Producers.

“This set-aside program deals with the most urgent need facing our industry, but the backlog of cattle will affect producers all the way up the supply chain to the cow calf level. Further critical action must be taken to support Canada’s beef industry.”

Potato surplus: Alberta growers take major hit in spring planting
Potato surplus: Alberta growers take major hit in spring planting

Alberta will immediately increase the interim payment under AgriStability from 50 per cent to 75 per cent for the hog sector. This is the equivalent of $20 per head for pork producers enrolled in AgriStability.

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The province will also immediately increase the advance payment under AgriStability from 50 per cent to 75 per cent for the potato industry.

Kenney said the province was also looking at ways to support the beekeeping and horseracing industries through pandemic-related challenges.

Guidelines for hair services

Hinshaw said she’s heard from hairstylists and barbers who are worried about health and safety ahead of the Stage 1 relaunch scheduled for May 14.

“There is no obligation for a business to open when Stage 1 begins,” she said.

“Businesses that feel they need more time to ensure the safety of their patrons or their staff should take the time they need to feel prepared and have additional health and safety protocols in place for cleaning and physical distancing.”

READ MORE: Edmonton to close personal service shops to combat COVID-19, state of emergency remains

Hinshaw added that out of Alberta’s 80 personal service industries, hair services were included in Stage 1 because they have provincially regulated training and safety standards and their certification includes a public health component.

Alberta sees ‘daily numbers declining’ but Dr. Hinshaw urges caution
Alberta sees ‘daily numbers declining’ but Dr. Hinshaw urges caution

These professionals already have some familiarity with limiting customers’ exposure to potential illnesses, Hinshaw said.

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READ MORE: Alberta hairdressers concerned about reopening May 14

The Alberta Health website includes general workplace guidelines and foundational expectations for all workplaces when looking at reopening during COVID-19.

The province is working on additional risk-mitigation guidelines for barbers and hairstylists, and expects to release those “soon,” Hinshaw said.

Hair services are the only personal services opening in the first stage, which mirrors other jurisdictions’ relaunch plans.