On Monday, Alberta hit a grim milestone. Alberta Health reported the largest number of COVID-19-related deaths in a 24-hour period since the pandemic hit the province.
Twenty fatalities were reported.
Alberta’s death toll now stands at 427. That means approximately one-quarter of all the fatalities have happened since Nov. 1.
“These are not just numbers. These are people. As our cases rise, our deaths will rise,” Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.
“The measures in place right now are literally life or death.”
Of the deaths, eight were reported in the Edmonton zone, seven were in the Calgary zone, three were in the South zone and one death was reported in both the North and Central zones.
In the Edmonton zone, two deaths were linked to the outbreak at the Edmonton General Care Centre: a man in his 70s and a man in his 80s. There were also two deaths reported at South Terrace Continuing Care: a woman in her 80s and a woman in her 90s.
Two deaths were reported at Covenant Care Chateau Vitaline: a man in his 80s and a woman in her 100s. A woman in her 90s who was linked to the outbreak at Villa Marguerite also died. A man in his 60s from the Edmonton zone who was not linked to continuing care also died.
In the Calgary zone, there was one death not linked to continuing care: a man in his 90s. Two deaths were reported from the Wing Kei Care Centre: a man in his 80s and a man in his 90s.
Two deaths were also linked to the outbreak at Mount Royal Revera: a man in his 60s and a woman in her 90s. A man in his 80s from Revera’s Bow-Crest care centre died, as well as a man in his 90s from Carewest George Boyack.
Two deaths in the South zone were not linked to continuing care: a woman in her 60s and a woman in her 70s. A man in his 70s from the South zone also died, he was linked to the outbreak at Edith Cavell Care Centre.
A man in his 80s from the Central zone passed. He was not linked to continuing care, nor was the death of a woman in her 60s from the North zone.
Hinshaw said 860 new COVID-19 cases were identified in the past 24 hours.
She said 264 Albertans are in hospital, 57 of whom are in intensive care.
“These numbers continue to be concerning,” she stressed. “This is a concern across the province.”
Hinshaw said Alberta’s positivity rate is about seven per cent.
She said Alberta currently has 10,031 confirmed active cases and in the last 24 hours, Alberta completed more than 12,000 lab tests.
‘Yes, we are in a second wave’
Alberta’s top doctor acknowledged that the province is clearly now in a second wave of the deadly virus.
The number of new cases confirmed daily has approximately doubled in about a month, going from 500 to 1,000. Many infections are from unknown sources.
“Yes, we are in a second wave in this point in time,” Hinshaw said.
“About a month ago, the possibility was still there that we could turn things around.. Clearly that’s not what’s happened.
“We are in a second wave. That number is not inevitable. It continues to be in our hands,” she said.
Alberta’s growth rate — or R value — continues to be above one.
“We have entered an exponential growth period and that is deeply concerning,” Hinshaw said Monday.
“Exponential growth means the doubling time, it will grow very quickly.”
Hinshaw said if it becomes clear that the new measures introduced Friday aren’t enough, “we will absolutely be bringing forward recommendations for additional measures.”
Roughly 65 per cent (93 regions) of Alberta’s 142 regions are currently under an enhanced watch and 81 per cent of the province’s 70 ICU beds are in use.
“It is critical that we all continue to do our part and look at changes we make to our daily lives to reduce transmission,” Hinshaw said. “We have had too many cases resulting from Albertans going to work while sick.”
She reminded people of federal supports that exist: the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit and the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit.
Hinshaw stressed any restrictions put in place are not done so lightly. She says she considers all aspects of Albertans health when making recommendations.
“I strive to do my best every day for every Albertan.”
Contact tracers under pressure
Each time a new positive case is confirmed, there are an average of 15 close contacts impacted, Hinshaw said.
“It is impossible to make phone calls to each one.”
That is why Alberta Health brought in different contact-alert methods, like the online portal that texts a case’s close contacts.
Still, contact tracers have incredibly heavy workloads because of the increasing number of new positive cases each day.
“I think those teams are still struggling to get the work done in a timely way,” Hinshaw said.
“We’re working together to prioritize and streamline.
“Those contact tracers are under a tremendous amount of pressure.”
She also asked anyone who received a call notifying them of a positive result to be kind and respectful.
Those who test positive “are sometimes unhappy with the contact tracers,” she explained. “Please remember that they’re doing their best for the community and for you.”
Alberta Health Services has said for some time now that it requires more contact tracers. While the application and interviewing processes have begun, hiring is expected to start this week to fill 425 positions.
The new hires should be in place within four to six weeks, AHS said.
“Many of our positions are now closed and are in the final recruiting stage, including shortlisting and interviewing,” spokesperson James Wood said.
“We expect to start hiring this week and intend to have all 425 positions fully on-boarded within four to six weeks. All open contact tracing positions are posted at ahs.ca/contacttracingjobs. We will continue to post opportunities for contact tracing work and anyone interested should continue to check the AHS careers page.”
Covenant Health outbreaks
As of Monday, there are 62 active cases of COVID-19 among residents and patients at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre. That indicates no increase since the last update.
There are 71 active cases among staff, which is an increase of two cases since the last update.
There have been two additional deaths connected to the outbreak. So far, a total of 30 people linked to the outbreak have died.
The Grey Nuns Community Hospital has COVID-19 outbreaks on four units.
As of Monday, there are 11 active cases in patients who have tested positive, an increase of two since the last update.
A total of 21 healthcare workers have tested positive for COVID-19, meaning there have been no new staff cases since the last update.
One more death linked to the outbreak was reported, bringing the total to three.
Clarification on group fitness rules
Alberta Health told Global News on Monday that swimming lessons are not allowed under the new health restrictions.
Figure skating lessons are also not permitted unless they are one-on-one.
Rapid COVID-19 tests
Alberta received some rapid tests from the federal government. According to Alberta Health, there are 42 of the ID Now machines being deployed across the province.
COVID-19 in Alberta schools
Hinshaw said Monday that about 13 per cent of all Alberta schools have an outbreak or alert, and 65 are on the watch list.
As of Nov. 15, there have been 1,720 COVID-19 cases identified in Alberta schools. As of Nov. 16, 0.1 per cent of staff and students have active cases of COVID-19.
“In Alberta, local school authorities set their school calendar and have the flexibility and autonomy to adjust their calendars to meet local needs,” Alberta Education spokesperson Colin Aitchison said.
“So far we are not aware that a school authority is considering extending their winter break.”
Alberta MLA self-isolating
Alberta’s Minister of Indigenous Relations Rick Wilson began self-isolating Monday morning after a close contact tested positive for COVID-19.
In a statement, Wilson said he has a test scheduled for later this week but is feeling healthy and is not exhibiting any COVID-19 symptoms.
In order to follow public health guidelines, he’ll be self-isolating until Nov. 24, 14 days following the exposure.
“To be clear, my incident is completely distinct from the premier’s. The two are in no way related,” Wilson said.