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1,123 new COVID-19 cases reported Wednesday as Alberta contact-tracer goal falls short

File: An employee with a mouth and nose protector sits in front of a computer during a press appointment in the Central Support of Contact Tracking in Hamburg. Photo by Daniel Bockwoldt/picture alliance via Getty Images

Alberta has missed its goal of having 1,600 COVID-19 contact tracers in place by the end of 2020. This, as 1,123 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Wednesday, along with 25 additional deaths from the disease. (Full COVID-19 data below).

With surging case numbers over the last several weeks of 2020, Alberta Health Services had announced plans to have 1,600 tracers in place by the end of December, a goal that was higher than originally planned.

Read more: Alberta aims to have 1,600 contact tracers by end of 2020 as COVID-19 cases surge

However, on Wednesday, AHS said it currently has approximately 1,250 contact tracers working across the province. Work continues to hire and train hundreds more people and AHS said it now hopes to have over 2,000 contact tracers in place by early February.

“With such a large volume of hires in a short period of time, AHS has experienced some delay with expediting the onboard process for staff due to various factors including available orientation spots, computer equipment availability, IT and security clearances,” AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said Wednesday.

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“AHS is working hard to address these delays and bring additional staff onto the contact tracing team as quickly as possible while maintaining the necessary standards and safety protocols necessary.”

The process of contact tracing involves phoning a positive case, identifying close contacts and following up with those individuals in the hopes of limiting further transmission. Alberta has faced challenges with contact tracing and in early November, AHS announced contact tracers would temporarily be shifted to focus their efforts on high-priority cases until more could be hired.

Read more: Alberta adds about 800 new COVID-19 cases in 24 hours, changes coming to contact tracing

In the interim, people with COVID-19 who do not meet the high-priority classification “will be asked to notify their own contact of exposures and the need for them to self-isolate and get tested,” Hinshaw said at the time.

On Nov. 23, Hinshaw said that due to a continuing surge in daily case numbers, she instructed AHS contract tracers to start with the most recently diagnosed cases and work backwards, and to prioritize the cases that would “have the greatest benefit in reducing further transmission.”

Click to play video 'Surge in COVID-19 cases has AHS asking most people who test positive to notify their own close contacts' Surge in COVID-19 cases has AHS asking most people who test positive to notify their own close contacts
Surge in COVID-19 cases has AHS asking most people who test positive to notify their own close contacts – Nov 6, 2020

Once Alberta hits its goal of 1,600 contact tracers, it will have 36 contact tracers per 100,000 people, according to AHS, which it says is on par or better than other provinces.

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Alberta’s COVID-19 data for Jan. 6

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Alberta reported 1,123 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, an increase from the 843 new cases announced Tuesday.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 911 Albertans hospitalized with COVID-19, 141 of whom were being treated in intensive care.

Of the 25 deaths reported to Alberta Health, 16 were in the Edmonton zone, seven were in the Calgary zone, one was in the North zone and one was in the Central zone.

In the Edmonton zone, a man in his 80s from the Good Samaritan Stony Plain Care Centre died, as well as a man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at Kiwanis Place Lodge. A woman in her 90s linked to the outbreak at the Dr. Gerald Zetter Centre died. There were two deaths linked to the outbreak at the Misericordia Community Hospital — a man in his 80s and a woman in her 80s. A man in his 70s linked to the outbreak at Good Samaritan Southgate Care Centre died. A woman in her 70s linked to the outbreak at the Cross Cancer Institute also passed. A woman in her 100s who was at the Edmonton General Care Centre died. Two women in their 80s also died, one of whom was linked to the outbreak at the St. Thomas Health Centre. The other woman’s death was linked to the outbreak at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital. All of these cases included comorbidities, according to Alberta Health.

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There were five deaths in the Edmonton zone in which comorbidities are unknown at this time, including a man in his 70s, a woman in her 70s, a man in his 80s, a woman in her 80s and a woman in her 80s linked to the outbreak at Rosedale Estates. A man in his 50s in the Edmonton zone also passed, and Alberta Health said there are no known comorbidities linked to his death.

Four of the deaths in the Calgary zone were linked to the outbreak at AgeCare Walden Heights, including two men in their 80s and two women in their 80s. All four deaths included comorbidities. A man in his 60s linked to the outbreak at Intercare Southwood also died, along with a man in his 80s from Bethany Airdrie. Both of these deaths included comorbidities.

A man in his 60s from the Calgary zone also died. Comorbidities are unknown at this time, according to Alberta Health.

The lone death in the North zone was a man in his 50s. Comorbidities are unknown at this time.

A male in his 90s from the Central zone also died. The case includes comorbidities.

Alberta’s death toll from COVID-19 has now reached 1,193.

While the number of new daily cases has dropped in recent weeks after hitting a daily record of 1,887 new cases on Dec. 14, the province’s health minister and chief medical officer of health remain cautious.

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“To be clear, they’re still too high. We need them a lot lower and I don’t want to jump the gun,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Tuesday.

“The numbers from the holidays have some uncertainty in them because of the low number of tests and there’s a real risk of an increase due to the holidays.”

Read more: How does COVID-19 contact tracing work? Alberta doctor explains

Shandro said hospitalizations are also “still too high” but added they are flattening.

“Our health-care system remains under significant pressure,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Tuesday.

“Overall, new case numbers, hospitalizations and ICU admissions for COVID-19 are still very high in our province.”

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With files from Julia Wong, Global News.