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Alberta switches to appointment-only COVID-19 tests as 961 cases identified over long weekend

Click to play video 'AHS COVID-19 testing centres shift back to appointment-only, Hinshaw asks people to show up' AHS COVID-19 testing centres shift back to appointment-only, Hinshaw asks people to show up
WATCH: Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announces AHS assessment centres are shifting back to appointment-only, saying it will result in fewer crowded lines and quicker tests. Hinshaw also asked people to show up for their appointments or cancel if they can't make it, noting there was a 14 per cent no-show rate in Calgary this past weekend – Oct 13, 2020

An average of 240 new cases of COVID-19 a day were confirmed in Alberta over the Thanksgiving long weekend, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Tuesday.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said 97 people are currently in hospital with the disease and 13 of them are in intensive care units.

There has been an increase in acute care admissions, Hinshaw said, most of which are linked to the outbreaks at Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre and Edmonton’s Misericordia Hospital.

“We are watching our province’s health system carefully,” she said, to ensure hospitals and hospital staff are able to meet those demands and the numbers continue to be within the province’s capacity to handle them.

Alberta currently has 70 ICU beds allocated for COVID-19 patients, Hinshaw said.

Click to play video 'Alberta switches to appointment-only COVID-19 tests as 900+ cases identified over long weekend' Alberta switches to appointment-only COVID-19 tests as 900+ cases identified over long weekend
Alberta switches to appointment-only COVID-19 tests as 900+ cases identified over long weekend – Oct 13, 2020

There were four deaths reported to Alberta Health since the Friday update.

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One of these deaths involved a man in his 80s who was a patient at the Foothills Medical Centre, which was previously reported by AHS on Friday.

Read more: Edmonton Mill Woods care centre COVID-19 outbreak adds 5 more cases over weekend

A woman in her 70s from the Edmonton zone (who was not in continuing care), a woman in her 60s connected to the outbreak at Lifestyle Options Terra Losa in Edmonton and a woman in her 50s linked to the outbreak at Millwoods Shepherds Care Centre in Edmonton also died.

“Any death at any time for any reason can be devastating,” Hinshaw said. “My heart goes out to everyone suffering a loss.”

A spokesperson for Lifestyle Options Terra Losa said the site had its first positive case on Tuesday, Sept. 15. Since then, it’s been doing weekly testing for everyone — symptomatic or not. Currently, there are seven residents and four staff that have tested positive for COVID-19.

On Friday, Alberta Health confirmed 236 new COVID-19 cases and conducted roughly 16,000 tests. On Saturday, 259 new cases were identified and about 13,000 tests done. On Sunday, 246 cases were identified and roughly 16,700 tests done. On Monday, 220 new cases were recorded and 11,000 tests done.

Click to play video 'Average of 240 new COVID-19 cases each day of the Thanksgiving long weekend: Hinshaw' Average of 240 new COVID-19 cases each day of the Thanksgiving long weekend: Hinshaw
Average of 240 new COVID-19 cases each day of the Thanksgiving long weekend: Hinshaw – Oct 13, 2020

 

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“The Edmonton zone remains the hot spot in the province,” Hinshaw said.

Read more: Alberta records highest daily COVID-19 case count; Edmonton sees new voluntary restrictions

As of Tuesday, there were 2,615 active cases in the province. Edmonton had 1,444 active cases. Hinshaw said the numbers there are concerning.

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“Due to the long incubation period of COVID-19, it will be at least a week or two until we see the impact of the voluntary measures in the Edmonton zone,” she noted.

Click to play video 'University of Alberta hospital not on COVID-19 outbreak list despite ER staff illnesses' University of Alberta hospital not on COVID-19 outbreak list despite ER staff illnesses
University of Alberta hospital not on COVID-19 outbreak list despite ER staff illnesses – Oct 13, 2020

On Thursday, additional voluntary restrictions were put in place for Edmonton, which is now under Alberta Health’s “enhanced” category, along with Beaumont, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, Spruce Grove and St. Albert.

The new health measures ask those in the Edmonton zone to keep private gatherings to 15 people or less, wear face coverings in all indoor work settings, and limit the number of cohorts they’re part of to three (household, school and sport, for instance).

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COVID-19 testing by appointment only

Hinshaw announced Alberta would be making a “strategic shift” in its testing approach.

COVID-19 swabs at AHS assessment centres will only be available by appointment. Effective Oct. 14, drop-in testing will no longer be offered.

“For most people, this will have no impact on your testing experience.”

Read more: ‘Small number’ of ER staff members at University of Alberta Hospital confirmed to have COVID-19

She said drop-in testing has made up only a small portion of total testing appointments.

“We will make on-site testing quicker and more efficient,” Hinshaw said, adding the change will also reduce crowded lines at assessment centres.

She said anyone can book an appointment but stressed they need to cancel it if they can no longer attend.

“The assessment centres are seeing a high no-show rate.”

There was a 14 per cent no-show rate at Calgary assessment centres over the weekend, Hinshaw explained.

“Please help us make the system as effective and efficient as possible,” she said.

Alberta Health is still working on reducing the wait times for results.

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Click to play video 'Albertans with COVID-19 becoming more uncooperative during contact tracing: Hinshaw' Albertans with COVID-19 becoming more uncooperative during contact tracing: Hinshaw
Albertans with COVID-19 becoming more uncooperative during contact tracing: Hinshaw – Oct 13, 2020

People reluctant to help contact tracers

Hinshaw shared another concerning trend on Tuesday.

“Contact tracers are reporting that an increasing number of people are reluctant to share information about where they may have been exposed to the virus, where they may have been while infectious and who they may have been in contact with.”

Read more: How does COVID-19 contact tracing work? Alberta doctor explains

Alberta’s top doctor said she understands that everyone is tired of COVID-19 and angry about how their lives have been disrupted. Still, she said being uncooperative with contact tracers won’t help matters; it will only make things worse.

“Please don’t turn any anger towards contact tracers.”

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Click to play video 'Update on COVID-19 cases in Alberta schools' Update on COVID-19 cases in Alberta schools
Update on COVID-19 cases in Alberta schools – Oct 13, 2020

Cases in Alberta schools

Hinshaw said 70 schools that previously had alerts have had no transmission lately and students and staff are back at school.

There are active alerts/outbreaks in 209 schools, which represents about nine per cent of all Alberta schools. In those schools, there are 464 active cases. Those schools include 88 sites considered to have outbreaks and 21 on the watch list.

Read more: Coronavirus: What schools in Alberta have COVID-19 outbreaks

Hinshaw said there has been a rise in COVID-19 cases in the 5-19 age group.

“This mirrors a similar rise that we’re seeing in the community,” she explained.

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She also said there’s been a significant increase in tests done in this age group — testing rates have more than doubled.

However, the positivity rate for the 5-19 age group remains at less than one per cent.

“The more cases and spread we see in our communities, the more likely we’ll see it in other places as well,” Hinshaw said.

She stressed Albertans must be “extra diligent right now.”

Foothills Medical Centre outbreaks update

One more health-care worker on the cardiac unit at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary has tested positive for COVID-19 linked to outbreaks at the hospital.

No more patients or visitors have tested positive for the virus, Alberta Health Services said Tuesday, and the outbreaks have not spread to any additional units.

Two units have been added to the watch list, including one where patients receive hematology, caner and bone marrow transplant care and one neurology/neuro surgery unit.

Read more: 2 more deaths linked to COVID-19 outbreaks at Calgary’s Foothills hospital

No patients on the hematology and cancer care unit have COVID-19, AHS said. One patient on the neurology unit has tested positive for the virus, however the case is believed to be the result of community transmission.

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Two units have been taken off the outbreak list; short-stay surgery and one transition unit, which remains on outbreak watch.

One of the general medicine units has been taken off the watch list, AHS said, and is returning to normal operations.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Tuesday officials have still not determined the source of the outbreaks, or how it spread through the hospital.