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Less COVID-19 transmission data, contact tracers overwhelmed as Alberta records 11 more deaths

Click to play video 'A stern warning from Alberta’s top doctor' A stern warning from Alberta’s top doctor
Dr. Deena Hinshaw was firm in tone during an update Wednesday, with a warning she called “deadly serious,” amid reports that Albertans are looking for ways around the province’s current two-week COVID-19 restrictions – Nov 19, 2020

While Alberta has attempted to target its public health restrictions to where the spread of COVID-19 is most prevalent, the province’s chief medical officer of health warned Wednesday that could become harder to do as control of the coronavirus pandemic continues to spiral.

“We don’t have the same kind of robust data that we used to have,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said at a news conference in Edmonton, citing a surge in COVID-19 case numbers and growing challenges facing overwhelmed contact tracers.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Alberta to address contact tracing delays with new online portal 

Hinshaw was responding to a question about what kinds of restrictions may be imposed if the severity of the situation continues to worsen.

“We are moving from having more detailed data to having less,” she said. “We may need to take broader measures,” depending on how much more serious the situation becomes.

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She also noted that the province has not made any decisions on what the potential further restrictions may be should the situation continue to decline.

Hinshaw said she and the government continue to try to balance COVID-19 risks with people’s mental and physical health when coming up with public health measures. She said she would prefer to continue implementing restrictions “based on where we’re seeing risk.”

“Almost one in three cases are getting sick from sources we cannot identify,” she said, adding that social gatherings continue to make up a hefty 40 per cent of known transmission sources.

“This puts us all at greater risk… This is why we put in the measures we did last week.”

READ MORE: Alberta set to receive 686,000 doses of Pfizer, Moderna coronavirus vaccines if trials go well: Hinshaw 

Hinshaw started her news conference by speaking about the toll the pandemic is taking on people’s nerves and admitted during a call with recent officials, she spoke “more sharply” than she intended.

“We’re all so tired right now and the stakes are very high,” she said. “We are in a terrible situation and it is COVID-19 that is the problem, not each other.

“We are all on team Alberta — we need to remember that.”

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Latest COVID-19 numbers in Alberta

Alberta Health said there were 11 COVID-19-related fatalities recorded on Wednesday. All but three were linked to care homes or hospitals.

In the Edmonton zone, three deaths were linked to a COVID-19 outbreak at the South Terrace Continuing Care Centre: two women in their 90s and one woman in her 80s. Two of the fatalities were linked to an outbreak at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital: a man in his 90s and a woman in her 90s.

A man in his 30s in the Edmonton zone also died.

In the Calgary zone, the death of a man in his 80s was linked to an outbreak at the Amica Britannia seniors residence, the death of a woman in her 80s was linked to an outbreak at the Revera Mount Royal Long-Term Care Home and the death of a woman in her 90s was linked to an outbreak at the AgeCare Skypointe care home.

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The other COVID-19 fatalities announced Wednesday were a man in his 60s in the North zone and a man in his 80s from the Central zone.

In total, 443 deaths in Alberta have been linked to COVID-19 since the pandemic hit the province in March. A significant portion of those deaths have been recorded this month alone.

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READ MORE: NDP calls for mandatory masks for all Alberta regions on province’s enhanced list 

Hinshaw offered her condolences to the loved ones of those who died. According to Alberta Health, there were 730 new COVID-19 cases recorded on Wednesday and Hinshaw said about 13,000 tests were conducted in the same 24-hour time period.

“I continue to be concerned about these numbers as the human costs of COVID-19 are rising rapidly,” she said.

She noted there are 10,057 active COVID-19 cases in Alberta currently, with 287 of those involving hospitalizations and 57 of those in intensive care units.

Hinshaw said Alberta Health Services is able to increase the amount of hospital space needed for COVID-19 patients as hospitalizations surge, but added that can have an impact on the health system’s ability to care for other patients and there is a limit to the province’s surge capacity.

“AHS is preparing and working hard to meet demands,” she said. “There is a ceiling to capacity expansion.

“We need Albertans to do their part.”

Hinshaw added that while many Albertans and businesses and organizations in the province have been doing a great job at trying to comply with public health measures, she has heard of some organizations and businesses trying to find loopholes to skirt restrictions and of some individuals doing the same.

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READ MORE: Calgary, Edmonton police say more COVID-19 tickets likely after Hinshaw requests enforcement 

She warned that people doing such things could result in the province needing to keep restrictions in place for longer than originally intended.

“If we do not change our trajectory, the implications are grim,” Hinshaw warned. “COVID-19 is not just the flu.

“This is deadly serious. I have asked for kindness but I also ask for firmness.”

READ MORE: Alberta marks deadliest day since COVID-19 pandemic began 

Hinshaw reminded Albertans about the importance of staying home when they don’t feel well and getting tested if they experience COVID-19 symptoms.

READ MORE: NDP, unions call for Alberta government to address paid sick leave gap during COVID-19 pandemic 

She also reminded Albertans about the importance of regular hand washing and mask wearing, and realizing that every time they do even simple, mundane things like pump gas into their vehicles they need to be aware of the potential spread of the novel coronavirus and to take proper precautions.

AHS provides more details on hospitals expanding capacity

A spokesperson for AHS said hospitals in the province are creating more space for COVID-19 patients by “opening units not currently in operation, and equipping and maximizing other spaces.”

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“An example of this is (the) Sprung tent structure at the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary, which has been used since August as an extension of the emergency department,” James Wood said in an email to Global News.

“AHS is also working closely with primary care, where they have increased their supports to help monitor and care for patients as long as possible at home and in their community, freeing up space in acute care facilities.”

Wood said there are currently 391 critical care and special care unit beds in Alberta.

“We currently provide specialty care across a variety of different intensive care unit beds,” he said.

WATCH ABOVE: Dr. Deena Hinshaw provides an update on Alberta’s response to COVID-19 on Wednesday.

“Patients with severe illness from COVID-19 would typically be cared for in a general ICU bed. There are 173 general adult ICU beds across the province.”

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Wood said in the Edmonton zone, AHS prepared an additional 10 ICU beds late last week to be used for COVID-19 patients if needed.

“Another 10 ICU spaces are being readied for use later this week in Edmonton zone,” he said. “In Calgary zone, an additional 20 ICU spaces are being created.

“Additional ICU spaces will also be readied for use in North, South and Central zones, as needed.”

Since the pandemic hit Alberta in March, 31,192 people in the province have recovered from COVID-19.

–With files from Global News’ Lauren Pullen

Watch below: Some videos from Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s news conference on Wednesday. 

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