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Voluntary public health measures coming for Edmonton zone amid rise in COVID-19 cases: Alberta health minister

Click to play video 'Voluntary public health measures coming for Edmonton zone amid rise in COVID-19 cases' Voluntary public health measures coming for Edmonton zone amid rise in COVID-19 cases
Alberta's health minister said voluntary public health measure are on the way for the Edmonton zone, where COVID-19 cases continue to increase. This comes while the City of Edmonton asks Alberta Health to reduce cohort sizes before Thanksgiving. Chris Chacon reports. – Oct 7, 2020

In an attempt to lower the number of COVID-19 cases in Edmonton and the surrounding areas, city administration is recommending that Alberta Health make a move to reduce cohort and group gathering sizes.

In an update to city council on Wednesday morning, interim city manager Adam Laughlin said the city has been working closely with Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health to determine what might be driving the increase in COVID-19 cases and what can be done to flatten the curve.

Read more: Possible new COVID-19 restrictions in Edmonton likely won’t look like the old ones

The latest data released by Alberta Health Wednesday afternoon showed that of the 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, 1,085 were in the Edmonton zone and 980 were within the Edmonton city limits.

Edmonton had a 95.9 active case rate per 100,000 population, which is nearly double the threshold to be placed on the province’s “watch” list.

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The city of Edmonton remained on the province’s watch list Wednesday. Regions with at least 10 active cases of COVID-19 and a rate of over 50 active cases per 100,000 population are placed on the watch list.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Monday that if the numbers continue to rise, additional health measures may be put in place. However, she did not specify what those measures might look like or what the threshold would be for them to be put in place.

Click to play video 'Hinshaw calls COVID-19 numbers in Edmonton over the weekend ‘concerning’' Hinshaw calls COVID-19 numbers in Edmonton over the weekend ‘concerning’
Hinshaw calls COVID-19 numbers in Edmonton over the weekend ‘concerning’ – Oct 5, 2020

Laughlin said health officials have found that spread is happening at social gatherings. Hinshaw also noted Monday that upwards of 11 per cent of active cases are still attending work or going to social gatherings while symptomatic and awaiting test results.

“These behaviours are contributing significantly to transmission of the virus and if they continue, they have the potential for us to dial back,” Laughlin said in his presentation to council.

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“What is at stake is the safety of our community and overwhelming the health-care system.”

Read more: Alberta confirms 578 new cases of COVID-19 since Friday, 8 more deaths

As a result, Laughlin said administration is encouraging Alberta Health to mandate reductions in cohort numbers and indoor and outdoor gathering sizes. Laughlin said this includes limiting Thanksgiving gatherings to immediate households.

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Currently, Alberta Health guidelines are in place for the entire province and limit audience-type community outdoor events such as festivals to 200 people. Outdoor events and indoor seated/audience events, including wedding ceremonies and funeral services are limited to 100 people.

Indoor social gatherings, including wedding and funeral receptions and birthday parties are limited to 50 people.

When it comes to family cohorts, core cohorts can include your household and up to 15 other people you spend the most time with and are physically close to, according to Alberta Health. A person in a cohort should have little to no close contact with people outside of the cohort.

Click to play video 'COVID-19 surge in Edmonton fuels call for more restrictions' COVID-19 surge in Edmonton fuels call for more restrictions
COVID-19 surge in Edmonton fuels call for more restrictions – Oct 6, 2020

Other steps administration is recommending is that a work-from-home strategy be developed for Edmonton businesses and that non-essential travel be restricted.

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In a media availability in Calgary on Wednesday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said he was briefed by Hinshaw on Tuesday about the rising cases and said voluntary measures will be coming.

“What we’re going to do is starting to communicate to folks in Edmonton zone on increased voluntary measures we’re going to be recommending for Edmontonians and for others in Edmonton zone,” Shandro said.

“I think there has to be a better communications strategy for people, especially where we do see a lot of our numbers increasing — folks who are younger in age — for them to continue to remember they have to take these measures, listen to the public health guidance that’s being recommended by our public health officials including Dr. Hinshaw, and all of the other public health officials in the ministry and AHS — because those measures are going to protect Albertans and it’s going to protect their loved ones and it’s going protect their communities.

“We are going to have increased voluntary measures that we’re going to be recommending for folks in Edmonton zone.”

Read more: Alberta confirms 143 cases of COVID-19 Wednesday; numbers climbing in Edmonton

In a statement late Wednesday morning, Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said the ministry “is looking closely at what underlying factors are driving the spread and considering what additional measures may be needed to reduce the spread in our community.

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“Alberta Health, Alberta Health Services and municipal partners are in close contact about voluntary public health measures for Albertans in Edmonton zone,” McMillan said.

“Details are still being finalized. Dr. Hinshaw will provide more information at her media availability tomorrow at 3:30 p.m.

“It’s important to remember that each of us has a role to play in limiting the spread. We all can help by following the public health precautions as closely as we can, in every facet of our lives. Simple steps like staying home while sick, even with mild symptoms, washing your hands, or staying physically distant may seem small, but they can have a big impact on preventing transmission.”

Laughlin said enforcement officers continue to monitor businesses and mandatory face covering compliance, particularly in the watch zones within Edmonton. As of Tuesday afternoon, there were just two regions within the city not on the province’s watch list: Edmonton – Bonnie Doon and Edmonton – Woodcroft West.

Laughlin said the city is not currently at a stage where another local state of emergency would be declared. The city is currently in Level 1 of its second wave progression model (below) and Laughlin said administration is “strongly considering” moving to Level 2.

Credit, City of Edmonton. Credit, City of Edmonton

Laughlin said another update on the COVID-19 situation in Edmonton would be provided to councillors during next Thursday’s emergency advisory committee meeting.

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