Spike in Lethbridge cases has Alberta NDP calling for COVID-19 response plan

Click to play video: 'Shannon Phillips urging province to control COVID-19 cases in Lethbridge'
Shannon Phillips urging province to control COVID-19 cases in Lethbridge
WATCH: On Friday, Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips shared the NDP’s four-point plan to help address rising cases of COVID-19 in Lethbridge. As Eloise Therien reports, Phillips wants more support for the people in the south zone. – Mar 26, 2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally stated that Lethbridge had 19 COVID-19 cases on Feb. 25, based on comments made by Alberta’s chief medical officer of health. She later issued a correction and said the city had 196 active cases on that day. We have corrected the article and regret the error.

As cases of COVID-19 across Alberta begin to creep up for a third time, an area of southern Alberta is seeing a sharp increase that has the Opposition NDP calling for a response plan.

Earlier this month, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Lethbridge has 196 COVID-19 cases on Feb. 25.

She added Cardston County and several other nearby areas have also seen a rise in COVID-19 spread.

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As of Friday, the active cases for the city had increased to 508, which has Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips proposing a COVID-19 response plan.

“As case numbers rise, we’ve heard nothing from the UCP about how they plan to limit the spread of COVID and keep people safe,” Phillips said in a statement Friday.

“Meanwhile, people are getting sick and small businesses are worried about the impact this will have on them.

“We need the government to step up and provide leadership if we’re going to prevent a third wave.”

Lethbridge currently has the highest rate of active cases among the Alberta’s major cities, with 504 per per 100,000 people — compared to 181 in Calgary, 135 in Red Deer, 114 in Edmonton, 227 in Grande Prairie, and just 11 in Medicine Hat.

(All numbers were sourced Friday afternoon from the Alberta government’s COVID-19 cases by municipality map.)

“While there is no single cause of the spike, local health officials have let me know that many of these cases are linked to family gatherings and visitation between households,” Hinshaw said.

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“People with mild symptoms who do not stay home or get tested right away, or faith gatherings where masking and distancing is not happening.”

Phillips is proposing a daily briefing from the Alberta Health Services south zone medical director until case counts return to levels seen at the end of second wave earlier this year.

The NDP said the the briefing should include specific precautions for Lethbridge residents to reduce the spread of COVID-19, especially with the more contagious variant strains circulating in the community.

Click to play video: 'Hinshaw does not rule out increased COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta'
Hinshaw does not rule out increased COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta

Nathan Neudorf, MLA for Lethbridge-East, believes the addresses and updates by the chief medical officer of health have been appropriate in answering questions and concerns about Lethbridge, adding having another voice might create more confusion.

“Right from the beginning, having Dr. Hinshaw as the single voice in addressing these matters has been effective,” he said.

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Phillips is also calling for a daily reporting of the reproductive value, or R-value, in the South Zone. It describes whether cases are currently increasing, decreasing or staying the same, and explains average number of people that someone with COVID-19 will infect.

If the number is over one, then on average an infected person will infect one other person; conversely, below one means the rate of transmission is decreasing.

Right now, R values are only updated by the province once a week and only include data for the Edmonton Zone, Calgary Zone, rest of Alberta and the province-wide average.

The R value from March 15 to 21 was:

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  • Alberta provincewide: 1.14 (1.10-1.18)
  • Edmonton Zone: 1.13 (1.05-1.21)
  • Calgary Zone: 1.23 (1.17-1.29)
  • Rest of Alberta: 1.05 (0.99-1.11)

The NDP says R-value reporting for Lethbridge will allow residents and healthcare professionals to understand the severity of COVID in the community.

Neudorf, however, doesn’t think this addition would be necessary.

“There is such a thing as over-information and people have been overloaded,” Neudorf said. “Telling many people what the R value is, many people wouldn’t just know — (what) does that mean to them?”

Instead, he suggests focusing on helping people understand the provinces restrictions, supports, and isolation procedures.

“For me, the highest priority is to meet the needs of our community with the best services available.

The NDP is also calling for more support for small businesses through the Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant (SMERG), and expansion of COVID care teams to Lethbridge — something both MLAs say they have advocated for.

“We’re actively looking into that,” Neudorf said of the COVID care teams. “I’m pleased to say that’s something that I asked in the legislature just yesterday.”

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“This plan will provide transparency and support,” Phillips said. “The end of the pandemic is within reach, but we aren’t out of the woods yet.

“The better we can control the spread of COVID, the sooner we can return to normal life. But we need a serious and credible plan to get there.”

Click to play video: 'Lethbridge and area seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases'
Lethbridge and area seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases

Hinshaw addressed Lethbridge’s situation at length last week, saying she understands people miss seeing their friends and family, but getting together right now will destroy all the progress made over the winter to bring cases back down from the peak in December and January.

“I’m hearing a rise in the belief that because most people who catch COVID recover, that this means we shouldn’t worry about it spread,” she said. “The reality is that it is this very fact of most people having mild symptoms that makes COVID-19 so dangerous for our communities.

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“This is because any one of us could be carrying the virus and not yet showing symptoms, passing it on to our friends and family who then pass it on to others,” she said, adding spread would likely decrease of everyone who got COVID became extremely sick.

“As it actually behaves, it can spread like wildfire and until we have enough vaccine to offer protection to the most vulnerable Albertans, widespread transmission would still mean surges in hospitalisations, ICU admissions and even deaths.

Click to play video: 'Alberta medical leaders address South zone COVID-19 cases'
Alberta medical leaders address South zone COVID-19 cases

As of March 23, there were 13 COVID-19 outbreaks in the south zone, and all but two were at facilities in Lethbridge, including the Chinook Regional Hospital.

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Hinshaw asked Albertans not to waste the sacrifices that have been made in the past year by ignoring the public health measures now.

“It is the everyday choices that matter for all of us. And make no mistake, each one of us matters. Not attending parties or potlucks, physical distancing from anyone not in your immediate household and staying home if you’re sick.

“Wherever you live in the province, these simple acts will help protect us, our families and our communities.”

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