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Changes to visitation in certain AHS facilities announced as Alberta reaches 500 COVID-19 deaths

WATCH ABOVE: Dr. Deena Hinshaw provides an update on the COVID-19 situation in Alberta on Nov. 25, 2020.

Effective immediately, there are new rules regarding visitation for Alberta Health Services acute care facilities under outbreak or in communities in “enhanced zones” as Alberta continues to try and slow the spread of COVID-19.

For patients in hospital or ambulatory care — including the emergency room and maternity and post-partum wards — only one designated family member or support person will be allowed. In the case of maternity wards, a doula or surrogate will also be permitted.

Read more: Alberta enacts 2nd COVID-19 state of public health emergency. Here’s what it means

Click to play video 'Visitation rules changing at some AHS facilities as Alberta reaches 500 COVID-19 deaths' Visitation rules changing at some AHS facilities as Alberta reaches 500 COVID-19 deaths
Visitation rules changing at some AHS facilities as Alberta reaches 500 COVID-19 deaths – Nov 25, 2020

For pediatrics as well as NICU and critical care, up to two family members or designated support people will be allowed.

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For any end-of-life situations, one designated family member or support person is allowed and any other visitors must be prearranged.

“We recognize that these restrictions are very difficult for patients, families, loved ones, staff and physicians, but these temporary measures are being implemented to help reduce exposure and spread of the virus in AHS facilities,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Alberta’s already struggling businesses face more restrictions' Coronavirus: Alberta’s already struggling businesses face more restrictions
Coronavirus: Alberta’s already struggling businesses face more restrictions – Nov 24, 2020

The changes came as Alberta’s chief medical officer of health announced Alberta had surpassed 500 deaths related to COVID-19.

Alberta Health confirmed an additional nine deaths on Wednesday, though the death toll only climbed by eight.

The province said a previous COVID-19 death was determined to not be related the virus.

Seven of Wednesday’s deaths were people who lived in the Edmonton zone: a woman in her 90s and a man in his 80s who were both linked to the outbreak at the Edmonton Chinatown Care Centre, a man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at Covenant Care Chateau Vitaline, a woman in her 50s linked to the outbreak at Lewis Estates Retirement Residence, a woman in her 80s linked to the outbreak at the Grey Nuns Community Hosptal, a woman in her 90s linked to the outbreak at Villa Marguerite and a man in his 70s who was not linked to any outbreak.

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Read more: ‘All we’ve done is taken our foot off the gas’: doctor responds to new Alberta COVID-19 restrictions

Two of the deaths were from the Calgary zone. A man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Lake Bonavista Villa and a man in his 80s not linked to an outbreak have died.

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“This is a tragic milestone,” Hinshaw said. “My sympathies go out to the families and friends of these individuals who are mourning the lives lost during what is a difficult time to grieve.”

On Wednesday, an additional 1,265 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed. There are now 13,719 active cases across the province.

There are 355 people in hospital, with 71 of those in the ICU.

Hinshaw called the growing case numbers and number of outbreaks “concerning” and said Albertans need to do “all we can to protect all the patients in our care.”

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Canadians overseas debate heading home for Christmas – Nov 24, 2020

With that, AHS is taking steps to increase capacity across the province.

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Over the coming weeks, more than 2,000 acute-care beds and up to 400 ICU beds will be allocated for COVID-19 patients.

“In some cases, these will be new beds,” Hinshaw said. “In other cases, these beds are existing hospital spaces that are made available as patients are moved into continuing care beds in the community.”

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To achieve this, AHS will be taking a variety of steps including transferring patients out of acute care to continuing care wherever possible and safe to do so, moving patients to beds that are available in other parts of the province, repurposing other clinical areas to provide ICU care and, if needed, reducing additional non-urgent surgeries.

“These steps are being taken to make sure there is sufficient capacity to meet the growing health care need,” Hinshaw said.

As these changes are implemented, AHS will provide specifics, Hinshaw said.

On Wednesday, AHS said ICU capacity in Edmonton and Calgary zones has been around 90 per cent over the last week.

It spiked on Tuesday, reaching about 97 per cent in Calgary zone, but AHS said these numbers fluctuate regularly.

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There may be times where ICU capacity is over 100 per cent, with additional supports available as necessary during those periods, AHS said.

Day 1 of new restrictions

On Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney introduced a number of new restrictions in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Those focus mainly on restrictions on any social gathering in a home, capacity limits on retail, gyms and in-restaurant dining, and having students Grade 7 to 12 begin at-home learning as early as Nov. 30.

Click to play video 'A look at new COVID-19 restrictions coming to Alberta' A look at new COVID-19 restrictions coming to Alberta
A look at new COVID-19 restrictions coming to Alberta – Nov 25, 2020

“I know that the new measures will be difficult for many, but our health-care system is at a tipping point and we cannot allow it to go over the edge,” Hinshaw said Wednesday.

“We need Albertans to do their part. We need Albertans to follow every measure — and I mean every measure.”

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Hinshaw provided some clarification to a number of the new restrictions.

When it comes to only socializing with those you live with and not allowing others to come into your home, Hinshaw said that doesn’t apply to service-based visits like healthcare or childcare.

Read more: Some Canadians employed, but putting in 0 hours due to coronavirus pandemic: analysis

It also doesn’t apply to blended families or co-parenting situations where a child may live in one home some of the time and another home the rest of the time.

“Raising your family is not a social gathering.”

While indoor events are not allowed, Albertans can host up to 10 people outside. But, Hinshaw said, anyone who lives outside the home cannot come inside to do things like use the washroom, get snacks or warm up.

“If they are coming inside your home for any reason, that is an indoor gathering.”

Click to play video 'Alberta businesses react to new COVID-19 restrictions' Alberta businesses react to new COVID-19 restrictions
Alberta businesses react to new COVID-19 restrictions – Nov 24, 2020

People who live alone can have two designated social contacts – or two individuals – but it must be the same two people throughout the duration of the restrictions.

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Hinshaw said she had already received requests from sporting groups looking into the exemptions that Kenney mentioned. Hinshaw said those may come, but there will need to be measures like aggressive testing in place.

“But the restrictions announced yesterday will only work if they are applied as broadly as possible,” she said.

Read more: COVID-19: Alberta sports leagues in limbo after additional three-week pause

The key here, Hinshaw said, is that people need to follow all of the restrictions, not just the ones they like or that work for them.

“We cannot bend the curve if everyone does not do their part.”

School update

As of Wednesday, there were alerts or outbreaks in 348 schools across Alberta. Of those schools, 179 have outbreaks and 171 of those are on the watch list.

There are a combined 1,207 active cases in Alberta schools.

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