As Alberta’s COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise at record rates, the province’s chief medical officer of health offered a stark warning to people who don’t fear the disease because they are not considered to be in a high-risk category.
“We do not yet know the long-term consequences of getting infected,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said at a news conference in Edmonton on Thursday. “(Some people) could face prolonged recoveries and long-term health risks.
“These long-term symptoms vary in severity and duration.”
Hinshaw spoke about the concerning numbers of people in younger age groups still contracting the illness, while noting that “in no way are young people the sole cause of cases we are seeing.”
“Adults in their 20s and 30s are the largest group of active cases we have today,” she said.
“Much has been made of the fact that younger people, especially those without underlying health conditions and under the age of 40, have a low chance of dying or experiencing a severe outcome. This is absolutely correct, but these are not the only risks that come with contracting COVID-19. As T.S. Eliot said, ‘Life is long.'”
She emphasized that her message to younger Albertans is that even though they may generally have a lower chance of facing severe outcomes from COVID-19, “these are not the only risks.”
“These are still early days,” Hinshaw said, referring to researchers’ ongoing work to try to better understand COVID-19 and its potential lasting effects. “(It) can have long-term and potentially devastating impacts on people’s long-term health.”
“Those infected can have long-term risks we don’t really understand.”
Hinshaw said research is ongoing around the world to explore the long-term impacts of COVID-19. She noted that the U.S.’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that heart conditions have been associated with COVID-19 and can impact younger people, including athletes.
“While it feels like we have been facing COVID-19 for an eternity, in terms of the scientific method and understanding of how this illness affects the body in the long term, these are still early days,” she said. “No one of any age can take COVID-19 lightly.”
“A recent study in the United Kingdom followed the health of 201 low-risk patients with an average age of 44 who were diagnosed with COVID-19 . Only 18 of these patients needed acute hospital care for their initial COVID-19 infection. So this is a group of patients who had relatively mild disease. Despite this, the study found that many of these people still had symptoms like fatigue, headache, shortness of breath or muscle aches four months after their initial symptoms.”
Hinshaw acknowledged that some people continue to wonder whether acquiring herd immunity can benefit jurisdictions dealing with COVID-19 and noted she continues to believe this would be an approach loaded with negative consequences.
“There is no way to successfully age-segregate our population… Increased spread puts older people at risk,” she said, while also reiterating that young people are also at risk from COVID-19.
Hinshaw said her team is continually looking at ways to improve its messaging aimed at young people through focus groups and surveys.
She noted that people who are young are in a period of their lives where “social interactions… (are a) really critical part of an active supportive environment.”
“We’re wanting to work on how to give information on how to safely gather,” Hinshaw said. “It does boil down to that we keep trying (to improve our messaging).”
At the same news conference, she told reporters that the province had recorded 427 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, a new record for daily increases in Alberta.
“Case numbers have been rising again in a concerning way,” Hinshaw said, adding that Alberta is seeing an impact on its health-care system both in terms of hospitalizations and in staffing issues as some health-care workers are quarantining because of outbreaks at some medical facilities.
On Thursday, Alberta Health provided Global News with hospitalization growth rates in the province between Oct. 8 and Oct. 21.
As a whole, Alberta had a 1.7 per cent hospitalization growth rate in that time. The Edmonton zone was at 2.7 per cent and the Calgary zone was at one per cent.
“Alberta, we have brought down our infection rates before and we can do it again. If you are waiting for that moment to take COVID seriously, to start going the extra mile, this is it.”
Hinshaw pleaded with Albertans to be particularly careful in the coming days.
“The leading source of exposures for actives cases right now is close contacts, and many of the cases we are seeing right now are the result of spread from Thanksgiving when families gathered together,” she said.
“People did not mean to spread COVID-19.”
Watch below: Some Global News videos about young people and COVID-19.
Latest COVID-19 numbers in Alberta
As of Thursday afternoon, Alberta Health said the province had 3,519 active COVID-19 cases with nearly half those cases still concentrated in the Edmonton zone (1,718). Of those cases, 112 involve hospitalizations and 18 people are in intensive care units.
No new deaths were recorded on Thursday, leaving the province’s pandemic death toll at 296.
In total, 1,682,603 coronavirus tests have been administered in Alberta since the pandemic began, with 14,304 of those tests occurring on Wednesday.
Since the pandemic hit Alberta in March, 23,829 people in the province have tested positive for COVID-19 and 20,014 people have since recovered.
Outbreak at Edmonton General Continuing Care
Hinshaw announced Thursday two new outbreaks in the province have led to 47 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
In Edmonton, there is now an outbreak at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre. Twenty-three people have tested positive, including 19 residents.
“My local colleagues have assured me that all residents and patients on the affected units and all staff that have worked on these units have been tested.”
Outbreak protocols have been implemented to stop the spread and protect all those involved, Hinshaw said.
Outbreak at Calgary Correctional Centre
In Calgary, 24 confirmed cases have been linked to an outbreak at the Calgary Correctional Centre.
Of those who have tested positive, 20 are inmates.
“Centre-wide testing and isolations are in place and outbreak protocols have been implemented,” Hinshaw said.
–With files from 630 CHED’s Kirby Bourne
Watch below: Some videos from Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s news conference on Thursday.