Residents of Alberta’s continuing care facilities and their families will soon have more freedom to visit with one another, a change Premier Jason Kenney says has been made possible by the COVID-19 vaccine.
Active cases in long-term care have declined from the peak of 831 on Dec. 27 to 44 as of April 24, the province said. Hospitalizations have decreased by 93 per cent and fatalities due to COVID-19 have declined by 94 per cent.
Kenney announced Monday the province was easing restrictions on long-term and other continuing care congregate living settings as of May 10.
“Nearly all continuing care residents and the majority of staff are now vaccinated with a double dose administered more than two weeks ago,” Kenney said, “which dramatically reduces their chance of infection and serious illness from COVID-19. So today, it’s safe for us to take a step forward.”
Each resident of a continuing care facility will see an increase in the number of designated family and support people they can visit with from two to four people, and facilities will be able to have small indoor visits. Larger outdoor visits will also be permitted, provided the facility and residents deem it safe to do so.
The province said the changes are not mandatory and will vary by site based on the design of the building, wishes of residents and other factors.
“This is a safe and prudent step forward,” Kenney said. “We’re not getting rid of all of the restrictions at continuing care facilities. There will continue to be limits on who can visit and how many (people) and strong outbreak protocols will remain in place.
“There are no risk-free options but we’ve heard loud and clear from residents and families that they want this change.”
“Since the start of the pandemic, elderly people have faced one of the toughest realities, as they are at the highest risk for severe outcomes of the contract the virus,” Kenney said.
More than 61 per cent of Alberta’s COVID-19 deaths were residents of continuing care homes, accounting for more than 1,200 fatalities.
“Our numbers in Alberta show that these facilities have been uniquely vulnerable to this virus. I want to recognize the resilience of the residents and their families as well as the dedicated staff and operators,” Kenney said.
The premier said he understands the strict health measures put in place to restrict the spread or introduction of the virus into these settings have had negative impacts on the residents’ health, leaving many feeling isolated and not being able to see loved ones.
Kenney said the immunization program is allowing the province to ease these restrictions, as continuing care residents and staff were the top priority in the early days of the vaccine rollout.
Cases in continuing care facilities have declined 95 per cent since December, he said. In supportive living settings, cases have dropped by 92 per cent.
“These results show us the power of vaccines,” he said. “And that is why despite seeing sharp rises in cases in other age groups, this third wave has not impacted those aged 70 and older in the same way.”
Daily COVID-19 numbers
Alberta Health identified 1,495 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. The provincial total reached 20,610 active cases.
There were 1,542 new cases associated with variants of concern confirmed.
Active variant cases make up 64 per cent of total active cases.
As of Monday, there were 616 people in hospital with the virus, including 145 in ICU.
Seven deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.
One of the fatalities was a woman in her 20s in the Edmonton zone with no known comorbidities. A woman in her 60s from the Edmonton zone with comorbidities also died.
A man in his 40s from the North zone died, as did a man in his 70s from the same zone and a man in his 70s from the Central zone. All three cases included comorbidities, Alberta Health said.
A man in his 50s from the Calgary zone — with no known comorbidities — passed away and a man in his 50s from the South zone — with comorbidities — died from COVID-19.
So far, 1,419,188 doses of vaccine have been administered to Albertans.
COVID-19 Testing Delays
On Monday afternoon, Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw tweeted that testing volumes in the Calgary zone had more than double in the last four to six weeks, resulting in some people waiting three to five days for results, which Hinshaw said “is too long.”
She tweeted that multiple strategies were being implemented to address the issue, including extending hours of operation of sites with the highest demand and adding staff at assessment centres and swabbing sites.
Hinshaw also tweeted that testing was being increased to five-days-a-week in Banff and seven-days-a-week in Okotoks, Airdrie and Cochrane.