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Restrictions at continuing care facilities loosened as Alberta’s COVID-19 cases top 9,000

Alberta identifies over 100 new COVID-19 cases for the first time since May
Dr. Deena Hinshaw announces Alberta has seen over 100 new cases of COVID-19 for the first time since May.

Starting next week, restrictions around visits to continuing care facilities will be changing even though the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alberta continues to rise.

On Thursday afternoon, Alberta Health said the total number had reached 9,114.

Over the last month, Alberta Health has been consulting with “thousands” of residents, staff and family of those in continuing care facilities, trying to find a balance between keeping residents safe and allowing more visits and connection with loved ones.

“These residents need hope, joy and connection, just like all of us,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Thursday.

Effective July 23, Alberta will be shifting from a “restricted access” to a “safe access” approach.

Alberta relaxes rules around continuing care centre visits and COVID-19
Alberta relaxes rules around continuing care centre visits and COVID-19

 

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That means each facility will be creating a local visitor policy specific to its site after consulting with residents, family and staff.

“While the baseline for the number of visitors allowed will be open somewhat for all facilities, we are also setting out the possibility that some facilities may be less restrictive if their residents collectively agree to assume more risk,” Hinshaw said.

Under the new policy, each resident will be able to designate two support people – up from one under the previous restrictions.

Those two people will be able to visit as often as they like and for as long as they like, as long as they co-ordinate with the facility.

Depending on the residents’ health, outdoor visits will be allowed with up to four additional visitors and will no longer require one of those visitors to be the designated support person.

New measures meant to balance health and well-being when it comes to Alberta care homes: Hinshaw
New measures meant to balance health and well-being when it comes to Alberta care homes: Hinshaw

 

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If the facility has a designated spot for indoor visits, those four people may be allowed to visit indoors. Hinshaw said that will be allowed in certain circumstances and only if it is safe and if it is part of the facility’s plan.

“There are no risk-free options with COVID-19,” she said. “This virus is still here and residents in these facilities remain uniquely vulnerable.

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“At the same time, we must also consider the overall health and well-being of those residents and the risks of isolation brought on by strict, universally applied visitor restrictions.”

Also new is an appeal process to properly fight a facility’s visitor regulation decision.

Other measures, including staff and visitor symptom checks and exposure screening, as well as restrictions on staff only working in one facility, remain in place.

Hinshaw reminded friends and loved ones of people in continuing care facilities that more opportunities to visit will be opened up if the loved one strictly follows public health guidelines.

Read more: Spike in Alberta COVID-19 cases in younger people cause for concern: Hinshaw

“Of course with more visitors comes more responsibility to keep those who live in these facilities safe,” she said. “We heard in the consultation [that those] who wanted to visit more were also willing to take on additional responsibilities.
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“The new restrictions give guidance on how to assess the risk of visitors potentially having been exposed to COVID[-19], with more flexibility for low-risk visitors than those who would be at higher risk.”

Alberta confirms more than 100 new COVID-19 cases in 24 hours

On Thursday, Alberta confirmed an additional 120 cases of COVID-19 after performing more than 8,200 tests.

“This is the first time since May 2 that we’ve identified more than 100 new cases in a single day,” Hinshaw said.

“I absolutely am concerned about the new numbers and the recent increase in cases that we’ve had. I’m particularly concerned about the number of cases where we don’t know the source,” Hinshaw said.

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“I want to emphasize the numbers that we’re seeing today are a reflection of what transmission was happening about one to two weeks ago, so the activities that we’re seeing today will result in cases in another one to two weeks.

“So I am very concerned about reports of people not following physical distancing, for example on beaches like we saw this last weekend.”

Hinshaw concerned about Albertan’s feeling public health measures are no longer important
Hinshaw concerned about Albertan’s feeling public health measures are no longer important

Alberta has 807 active cases with 69 people in hospital. Of those, eight people are in the ICU.

Alberta’s death toll has also climbed to 165 after two more deaths were confirmed.

One of those who died was a man in his 90s from the Edmonton zone. His death is linked to the outbreak at the Misericordia Community Hospital in Edmonton. His death was previously ruled COVID-19 related, but was removed from the novel coronavirus death toll on July 9 because Alberta Health said it wasn’t connected to the illness afterall.

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“It has since been determined upon further investigation that the case was indeed linked to the outbreak, which is reflected in the update provided today,” Alberta Health said Thursday.

Hinshaw reminds Albertans of the importance of physical distancing
Hinshaw reminds Albertans of the importance of physical distancing

The other person who died was a man in his 80s in the South zone. Alberta Health didn’t say whether that death was linked to any current outbreaks.

As well, three new regions have been added to a “watch” list on the province’s reopening status map. There are now seven regions under that category.

Active cases in Edmonton and Calgary continue to be higher than other parts of the province. As of Thursday, there are 362 active cases in Calgary and 217 in Edmonton. There are 75 in the Central zone, 90 in the South zone, 55 in the North zone and eight active cases linked to unknown zones.

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More restrictions lifted

Effective Friday, indoor exhibits and trade shows will be permitted, as well as outdoor vocal concerts and wind instrument performances.

As well, outdoor hot tub and whirlpools will be permitted to open.

Alberta permits exhibits and trade shows, outdoor concerts and outdoor hot tubs
Alberta permits exhibits and trade shows, outdoor concerts and outdoor hot tubs

Hinshaw says these activities will still need to “closely adhere to physical distancing measures” as well as other public health guidance.

“We are making these changes because evidence shows us that these particular activities are not adding significant levels of risk and public health remains the top priority,” she said.

Hinshaw will provide the province’s next update on July 20.

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