As expected, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health introduced new, voluntary health measures for the Edmonton zone after a surge of COVID-19 cases over the last week.
“These measures are voluntary because we still have sufficient hospital beds and capacity to meet the current needs in Edmonton, but we are moving forward with them because it is important to use our current data as a call to action,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.
This comes after a number of factors were recorded in the Edmonton zone. Over the past week, the positivity rate increased to four per cent and the R value – or the amount of people an infected person passes the virus to – increased from one to 1.3. Though Edmonton has seen higher case counts for several weeks, the numbers have “tipped up very quickly,” Hinshaw said.
“The Edmonton zone now faces a crucial juncture.”
“While the system is able to support the current caseloads in hospitals and ICUs, the acute care impact is a lagging indicator.”
It typically takes about one to two weeks for an increase in cases to lead to an increase in hospitalizations, Hinshaw said.
Private gatherings limited to 15 people
As of Oct. 8, those in the Edmonton zone are asked to keep indoor family and private social gatherings to no more than 15 people.
“This is the maximum,” Hinshaw warned.
In the past week, Hinshaw said. About 36 per cent – or two out of five – new cases were infected by a close contact. Twenty-six per cent were linked to active outbreaks.
“Where transmission is known, household or community contacts appear to be a key driver in spreading the virus throughout the city.”
The previous number for indoor private gatherings was no more than 50. The rest of Alberta still falls under that rule.
The new guideline does not affect more formal gatherings, Hinshaw said, like theatres, worship services or other gatherings where the organizer is ensuring COVID-19 guidelines are being adhered to.
“In these other settings though, it is critical that all COVID guidance be followed carefully.”
Hinshaw also said she understands it may not be possible for people who have been planning events like weddings or funerals to decrease the number of people invited to 15, but strongly encouraged organizers try.
Masks required in all indoor work settings
In the second new guideline, Hinshaw recommended masks should be worn in all indoor work settings, except for when a person is alone in a workspace such as a cubicle or an office, or if there is a barrier in place.
Limit number of cohorts to 3
Finally, Hinshaw is asking everyone in the Edmonton zone to limit their cohorts to no more than three separate cohorts: the core household, a school cohort and no more than one social, sport or other group cohort.
“The recommendation is to limit our individual cohorts to no more than three, including your household cohort,” Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan explained. “It is not changing the guidance around league/recreational play from what is already in place.
“For individuals who chose to have a sport cohort, we are recommending they only belong to one cohort and not in multiple ones, or in multiple sport and social cohorts.”
Hinshaw did say there are two circumstances were people could have four cohorts. In the first, in some rare circumstances, people are part of a work cohort.
“Remember that a cohort is a group of people who don’t have to follow all COVID restrictions at all times to enable an activity such as a team sport to take place,” Hinshaw said.
Since the majority of workplaces are implementing guidelines like barriers and distancing, most workplaces wouldn’t fall under that guideline.
Second, children who attend childcare can have that childcare group be their fourth cohort. According to Hinshaw, childcare cohorts have not been a high-risk contact for spreading the virus and young children are less likely to spread the virus to others.
“These measures are not being taken lightly, but are necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from continuing to escalate,” Hinshaw said.
Though these new measures only affect the Edmonton zone, Hinshaw said public health officials are keeping a close eye on other zones across the province as well.
“While these voluntary measures are focused on the Edmonton zone, everyone in the province should take note.”
New numbers show sharp rise in confirmed cases
On Thursday, Alberta recorded the highest ever single-day number of new cases since the pandemic was declared in March.
Hinshaw announced there was an additional 364 cases confirmed in Alberta – the majority of which in Edmonton. Alberta Health said the previous number of highest daily cases was 351, recorded on April 23.
There are currently 2,097 active cases across the province, with 1,251 of those in the Edmonton zone.
In the Calgary zone there are 604 active cases, there are 39 in the Central zone, 92 were listed in the South zone and there were 97 confirmed cases in the North zone.
Fourteen cases were not attributed to a specific zone.
“As I said on Monday, I am very concerned about the sharp rise in cases that I am seeing,” Hinshaw said.
Two new deaths related to COVID-19 were also reported. Both are from the Calgary zone and are both related to the outbreak at the Foothills Medical Centre.
A man in his 70s and a woman in her 80s have died, bringing Alberta’s death toll to 283.
“I want to express my heartfelt condolences to anyone who has lost a loved one to COVID or any other cause during these difficult months,” Hinshaw said.
On Thursday, there were 77 people in hospital, with 13 of those in the ICU.
To date, 17, 338 Albertans have recovered from COVID-19 and Alberta has performed 1,472,658 tests.
Premier Jason Kenney said Friday the restrictions will remain voluntary, and only for Edmonton, for the time being. He also reiterated past comments that Alberta isn’t going to “enforce our way out of this.”
Earlier on Friday, Ontario re-introduced various mandatory restrictions in Toronto, Ottawa and the Peel Region in light of a recent surge in new cases. Activities on the restriction list include indoor dining rooms at restaurants and gyms. At the end of September, Montreal also imposed a temporary, partial lock-down in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.2
“By taking a lighter approach to restrictions than many other jurisdictions that had vast lock-downs and aggressive enforcement and micromanaging peoples’ lives — many of those jurisdictions have seen much higher levels of infections and fatalities than Alberta has,” Kenney said.
“And I want, as, as much as humanly possible, us to maintain our approach, which is focused on people exercising personal responsibility.”
Kenney referenced Hinshaw’s previous remarks that imposed lockdowns and shutdowns had vast negative impacts on the community.
“For every public health restriction, there are negative — and sometimes devastating — broader social, economic and health consequences,” he said.
Kenney said officials are closely monitoring various data, including a StatsCan report on “excess deaths” in the second quarter of the year, and whether that’s due to delayed surgeries, people avoiding hospitals, or because of the province’s restrictions, as well as non-COVID-related health information.
“We are focused on the broader health — physical, mental, social and economic — and that’s why our focus, as much as possible, continues to be on encouraging people to exercise responsibility, rather than micromanaging their lives.”
Kenney said thousands of small businesses across the province are “barely hanging on,” and he “really fears what the economic, social, mental and emotional health impacts” would be if the province were to re-introduce lockdown measures.
City of Edmonton supports measures
The City of Edmonton spoke out in support of Alberta Health’s additional measures.
“The announcement… reflects our shared concern for the health and safety of people in this region,” interim city manager Adam Laughlin said.
“The increase in case numbers has persisted over many days and suggests people’s attitudes and actions towards public health measures have become more relaxed.
“What is at stake is the safety of our community and the potential for overwhelming our health system,” Laughlin said.
“Taking additional caution now to avoid a setback in our relaunch is just the sensible thing to do.”
Edmonton, along with Beaumont, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, Spruce Grove and St, Albert, are now listed under the “enhanced” category on Alberta Health’s COVID-19 status map. That category means “risk levels require enhanced public health measures to control spread, informed by local context.”
Laughlin said the city will be looking at Hinshaw’s advice and may consider further City of Edmonton actions or measures and will discuss options at the next emergency advisory committee of city council on Oct. 15.
“Edmontonians did so well in the first half of this year to keep our COVID numbers down,” said Laughlin, “but we’ve become a bit complacent.
“We are prepared to put further measures in place to contain the spread of the virus and help to protect the people of Edmonton.”
He said that could include more bylaw enforcement, changes to venue and event permitting and bookings and even capacity limits at city facilities.
Alberta Health Services will be continuing inspections of public-serving businesses to ensure that existing guidance is being followed. City enforcement officers will be increasing their inspections and deploying to shopping centres and public spaces in high-outbreak and AHS watch locations.
“The dramatic increase in case numbers is deeply concerning and we need all Edmontonians to take more precautions to limit the risk of case numbers growing even more,” Laughlin said.
A warning about Thanksgiving gatherings
Ahead of the Thanksgiving long weekend, Hinshaw reminded Albertans that COVID-19 is still with us and urged residents to avoid planning large get togethers this weekend.
“Now is not the time to be gathering in large groups, travelling long distances to enjoy the holiday, or sharing food or utensils with people outside your cohort,” she said.
“Keep your Thanksgiving small, keep it safe and protect one another.”
Last month, Alberta Health issued guidelines about how to have a safe Thanksgiving.
“By working together, we can all protect each other, reduce the spread and lift these measures as soon as possible.”
COVID-19 in schools
As of Thursday, 55 schools in Alberta were off the outbreak alert list and all students and staff were back in class.
There were 170 schools on alert for outbreak, with 370 active cases across those schools. There are currently 72 schools with an outbreak, with 14 of those on the watchlist, Hinshaw said.
To date, there have been 27 schools that have likely had in-school transmission.
Clarification on what parents should do if children become sick
On Thursday, Hinshaw clarified what parents of sick schoolchildren should do if they have not tested positive for COVID-19.
“I want to address a question that I heard is causing confusion for people,” she said, before explaining when parents need to self-isolate in such situations.
“If your child has not been identified as a close contact of a COVID(-19) case and they have not tested positive, you do not have to self-isolate away from others, although the child who is sick would be kept away from others in the home,” Hinshaw explained.
“For young children, it may be best to have only one parent provide care in order to limit contact. You may choose to stay home but you are not legally required to do so.”
Hinshaw added that parents should continue to monitor for symptoms and follow public health guidelines but that if a sick child has not tested positive for COVID-19 or been considered a close contact of a COVID-19 case, a parent is not required to self-isolate.
She said the reason for that is because the COVID-19 positivity rate for school-aged children in Alberta right now is less than one per cent.
–With files from Global News’ Phil Heidenreich, Emily Mertz and Heide PearsonView link »