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Alberta expanding free self-isolation hotel program, sending COVID-19 care teams to hard-hit communities

Click to play video: 'Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces details of new COVID-19 outreach campaign' Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces details of new COVID-19 outreach campaign
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced the details of a new COVID-19 outreach program for 11 communities in Calgary and Edmonton. – Dec 15, 2020

The Alberta government is vastly expanding the province’s free, self-isolation hotel room availability for any Albertans living in areas hard hit by COVID-19 who are unable to isolate at their home. It’s offering an incentive for those who use the service.

Eleven communities — nine in Edmonton and two in Calgary — were identified as having “the highest rates of COVID[-19] transmission in the province,” according to data from Alberta Health and the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, Premier Jason Kenney said Tuesday.

Read more: Kenney looks back at Alberta’s pandemic priorities as first COVID-19 vaccines scheduled

Kenney said those communities need an “additional layer of public health support over and above the measures put in place province-wide.”

“Albertans in these particular communities are at higher risk of COVID-19 due to absolutely no fault of the residents there,” he said.

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“The residents of these communities often have public-facing jobs, which may make them more susceptible to community transmission.”

The Edmonton communities include Abbottsfield, Castle Downs, Eastwood, Jasper Place, Mill Woods West, North East, Northgate, Woodcroft East and Woodcroft West. The Calgary communities are the Lower and Upper Northeast.

Click to play video: 'Alberta sending COVID-19 care teams to hard-hit communities in Edmonton and Calgary' Alberta sending COVID-19 care teams to hard-hit communities in Edmonton and Calgary
Alberta sending COVID-19 care teams to hard-hit communities in Edmonton and Calgary – Dec 15, 2020

“We must be there to support them,” Kenney said. “These heaviest-hit neighbourhoods tend to be lower-income areas where people naturally live in higher-density housing arrangements.”

In some cases in communities with densely populated housing, Kenney said it’s been “effectively impossible” for people to “completely” self-isolate at home if they tested positive for COVID-19, have symptoms of the illness or are a close contact of someone with the disease.

Read more: Alberta health-care workers receive province’s 1st COVID-19 vaccines Tuesday

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Those people were offered a hotel room to isolate in for 14 days, which is paid for by taxpayers. Since the spring, Kenney said only a few dozen people have actually used those rooms, adding he believes most people don’t know that option is there.

Now the province is expanding the number of rooms available, and trying to do more to get the word out that they’re available to anyone who needs them.

A total of 16 self-isolation hotels are now up and running and ready to take in COVID-positive Albertans; six in Calgary, nine in Edmonton and one in Peace River.

Kenney said there are nearly 800 rooms available in Calgary and more than 1,300 in Edmonton. The premier said the hotels will offer culturally appropriate meals and co-ordination is underway for meal drop-offs from community organizations.

The province is working to secure more spaces in the two biggest cities, as well as hotels in Fort McMurray and Red Deer, and the option is there to expand the program if demand goes up. The daily cost of the room and food for each person is about $160, Kenney said.

Read more: Province spent $150,000 to house Albertans who couldn’t self-isolate at home

Kenney also announced that anyone in the 11 communities needing to self-isolate and take time away from work and their families will be eligible for a temporary, emergency payout of $625 once their isolation at a designated hotel is over — similar to payments made to people needing to evacuate their homes in the midst of a natural disaster.

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“My view is that vulnerable people affected by this public health emergency, who do the right thing by self-isolating, need similar support to be safe,” he said.

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“So the message is clear: if you’ve been asked by Alberta Health to self-isolate due to COVID-19 — or even if you haven’t been asked or you know that you’re a close contact or are symptomatic — but you cannot safely self-isolate at home, we are here with real help.

“Free accommodation, food, transportation and financial aid is available for you.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta health-care workers receive first doses of COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday' Alberta health-care workers receive first doses of COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday
Alberta health-care workers receive first doses of COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday – Dec 15, 2020

New, COVID Care Teams will also be be deployed in each of the 11 communities, in partnership with municipal and community partners in each city, to bring “on-the-ground outreach and very practical support.”

Kenney said the team members will be going directly into the communities in a safe and mindful way, to ensure any residents there have the supports and information they need to help fight the spread of the novel coronavirus.

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“This is about having empathy and compassion for the very real barriers that many of those folks face, providing what they need to slow the spread in our two largest cities,” Kenney said.

Read more: Disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases in NE Calgary has doctors calling for more resources

He said the teams will provide materials and clarity on public health measures in a variety of languages, if language barriers are a hinderance. Care packages with masks, hand sanitizer and info booklets will also be handed out to residents.

Kenney said the teams will also educate people and help them apply for benefits like, if necessary, the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, and officials are working to increase awareness about the testing centres in the communities, and to offer transportation services if people need them. They’re also increasing information about vaccinations to combat misinformation about immunization safety.

A “renewed public awareness campaign” that features 10 different languages will also be launched across various media in the communities as another way to get the message across to residents “in the language that they can understand best.”

Click to play video: 'Kenney hopeful Alberta could see COVID-19 restrictions relaxed after four weeks' Kenney hopeful Alberta could see COVID-19 restrictions relaxed after four weeks
Kenney hopeful Alberta could see COVID-19 restrictions relaxed after four weeks – Dec 15, 2020

 Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city has been working “very closely” with both the government and social agencies in the city’s east end to help make the program a success.

“It really is about helping people understand their rights, helping them understand that they’re allowed to call in sick… that they’re not going to lose their job if they’re a taxi driver,” he said.

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“If they do make the right choices to be healthy, helping them understand… how they can access the supports that are available should people get sick.”

Throughout this week, tele-town halls are underway in each city to get the word out on the COVID Care Teams, and answer any questions residents may have, the government said.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the outreach teams will start getting in contact with community leaders to see how they can effectively reach residents.

The COVID Care Teams will also be reaching out to cultural media starting Wednesday to start spreading the information. The broad distribution of materials and information is expected to get underway by Friday.

Kenney said this shouldn’t be perceived as the “beginning” of the government’s outreach to these communities which have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in recent weeks, saying that communication with ethnic communities has been ongoing since March. He said this is the government recognizing that the work up until now hasn’t been sufficient.

“We need to step it up in a significant way given the prevalence of active cases in some of these neighbourhoods,” he said, adding that part of the struggle was determining how to get the information and services out to residents in a practical way.

Click to play video: 'Alberta ICUs are getting crowded with COVID-19 patients' Alberta ICUs are getting crowded with COVID-19 patients
Alberta ICUs are getting crowded with COVID-19 patients – Dec 15, 2020

Tuesday’s case numbers

Alberta laboratories confirmed 1,341 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the province’s active case total to 20,849. With 16,353 tests done in the last 24 hours, the province’s positivity rate sits at 8.2 per cent.

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Dr. Deena Hinshaw said this represents a “continuation of the plateau in cases” she talked about on Monday, and stressed people still need to be vigilant in following health restrictions.

Seven-hundred-forty-two people were being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals across Alberta as of Tuesday, with 137 of them in intensive care beds – numbers which Hinshaw said “continue to be alarming.”

“This pandemic has not stopped all of the other health issues that Albertans face every day,” she said. “Babies are still being born, people are suffering from heart attacks and having car collisions. Every COVID-19 hospitalization is an additional stress on our acute care system.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta records 1,341 new cases of COVID-19, 11 deaths on Tuesday' Alberta records 1,341 new cases of COVID-19, 11 deaths on Tuesday
Alberta records 1,341 new cases of COVID-19, 11 deaths on Tuesday – Dec 15, 2020

Alberta Health reported 11 additional deaths related to COVID-19 on Tuesday, 10 of which were in the Edmonton zone.

Three of the Edmonton zone deaths were linked to the outbreak at Salem Manor — a woman in her 70s, a woman in her 80s and a woman in her 90s. All of these deaths included comorbidities, Alberta Health said.

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A woman in her 70s linked to the outbreak at Capital Care Strathcona also died, as well as a woman in her 60s linked to the outbreak at Hardisty Care Centre. Both of these deaths included comorbidities.

Read more: Surgery indefinitely delayed for Alberta man as hospitals grapple with COVID-19

A man in his 70s linked to the outbreak at Shepherds Care Vanguard also passed, as well as a woman in her 70s from the Chartwell St. Albert Retirement Residences and a woman in her 80s from the Chinese Seniors Lodge. The comorbidities in these cases are not known at this time.

A woman in her 80s not linked to continuing care also died. The case included comorbidities, Alberta Health said. A man in his 80s also died. He was not in continuing care and Alberta Health said comorbidities are not known.

The sole death reported outside of the Edmonton zone was a man in his 50s from the South zone. Alberta Health said comorbidities are not known at this time.

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