As Alberta added an additional 1,549 cases of COVID-19 in the province, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Monday she will be advising the Alberta government on new recommendations for additional restrictions.
“It’s clear that we have reached a precarious point in Alberta,” Hinshaw said in her update, which was earlier in the day so she could meet with government officials later in the afternoon.
“The virus is spreading faster and more widely than any other point in the pandemic.”
An additional five deaths were announced Monday, bringing the provincial fatalities to 476. There are now 328 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 62 who are in the ICU.
“The number of fatalities from this virus is growing,” Hinshaw said. “This is impacting the care, not only from those suffering from COVID-19 but from a wide range of other health needs.
“This is like a snowball rolling down a hill growing bigger and faster, and it will continue unless we implement strong measures to stop. We must take action.
“Waiting any longer will impact our ability to care for Albertans in the weeks and months ahead.”
Hinshaw said she will meet with the government’s priorities implementation cabinet committee Monday afternoon, to discuss options on stricter measures in the province. She would not specify what restrictions would be discussed.
“There’s no one single way through this pandemic,” Hinshaw said. “The decisions around COVID-19 restrictions are very challenging. My role is to provide advice and recommendations and the role of elected officials is to make decisions on those policy options.”
Four of the five deaths reported Monday were individuals at continuing care centres or hospitals dealing with outbreaks.
They included a man in his 70s at Covenant Care Chateau Vitaline in Edmonton zone, a man in his 80s at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in North zone, and a woman in her 50s at Intercare Chinook Care Centre as well as a man in his 70s at the Peter Lougheed Centre, both of which were in Calgary zone.
A woman in her 70s in the South zone, not linked to any outbreaks, also died.
Active case numbers have also spiked with 13,166 cases. That’s over triple the amount it was a month ago when there were 3,651 active cases.
The majority of active cases are in or around Alberta’s two largest cities, with 5,991 or 45 per cent of them in Edmonton zone and 4,845 or 37 per cent of them in Calgary zone.
Hinshaw said Monday that she will be hosting live updates every day this week amid the rising cases.
“We cannot let up now,” she said. “Every one of us must do our part to limit the spread of COVID-19.”
Contact tracing backlog
Hinshaw said that the province is currently facing a massive backlog when it comes to contact tracing due to the rising case numbers.
“The team has not been able to keep up with the current demand,” she said. “This means that there has been a slowly growing backlog of cases over the past several weeks who have not yet had a call from AHS.”
Hinshaw said she has advised contact tracers to switch to a method of tracing beginning with the most-recently confirmed cases.
She said the decision was made to “maximize the effectiveness of the team.”
All those who test positive will be notified, Hinshaw said. But if 10 days have passed since an individual has tested positive they will not be contact traced. Instead, they will receive a text informing them to not expect a call and providing guidance on when their isolation can end.
“We must focus on looking forward and using our contract tracers where they have the greatest impact,” Hinshaw said, adding that those who test positive are still legally required to isolate for at least 10 days following the start of their symptoms, or until their symptoms resolve — whichever is longer.
Hinshaw added that school-age children and health-care workers will be prioritized when it comes to contact tracing.
Alberta remains under restrictions that were put into place on Nov. 13 initially announced for a two-week period in an attempt to stop the rising case number and stop the health system from being overwhelmed. Those restrictions included stricter alcohol sale and closure rules for restaurants and bars, the cancellation of group fitness classes, and a request to stop having visitors in the home. Those measures will be in place until at least Nov. 27.
‘Remain vigilant’: Hinshaw pens letter to long-term care centres
In a letter sent to families and residents of supportive living and long-term care centres in the province dated Nov. 20, Hinshaw said she remains “very concerned” for residents and asked families to continue doing all they can to avoid spreading COVID-19 in the facilities.
“I am asking for your help in protecting those most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hinshaw said. “The staff of the buildings where you or your family member live are doing everything they can to keep the risk of infection low while keeping as much normalcy as possible.
“But we very much need your help. It is imperative that you remain vigilant in your actions to protect yourself and others around you.”
Hinshaw said residents should avoid going out without a “critical need.” She also said family members wanting to visit, especially in high-risk areas like Calgary and Edmonton, should “evaluate your need to be physically present” and connect in other ways such as the telephone or digitally.
According to AHS, newly-admitted residents to long-term care centres are placed in isolation and tested for COVID-19.
While the official rules still state residents can currently still have two “designated support persons” who can visit in person, Hinshaw’s letter strongly suggests to avoid that.
“I recognize that this continues to be a challenging time,” Hinshaw said. “Thank you for continuing to prioritize public health advice to protect your safety, and the safety of those around you.”
Notley says health crisis is ‘getting away from us’
Opposition Leader Rachel Notley addressed the legislature Monday night and criticized Premier Jason Kenney for not addressing Albertans as the province breaks daily records for case numbers.
“(Albertans) need to hear from the premier — the person that has been elected to lead this province,” she said.
Notley added that while she understands Kenney remains in self-isolation after a close contact tested positive for COVID-19, the fact he tested negative means he should be able to speak to Albertans via videoconferencing, adding that other leaders like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed citizens while they were self-isolating.
“Leadership is about moments,” she said. “We’ve lost count of the moments that this particular leader has failed to show up.
“It’s been 10 days since the premier has addressed the public on the matter of COVID-19, since he has presented himself in a press conference in order to answer questions about decisions being taken to deal with this incredible rise in cases in this province… And in that 10 days… 73 people have died. We are now at over 13,000 active cases in this province. Eighty-four per cent of those active cases occurred in the last 10 days while the premier has been MIA.
“We are left with his talking points from days and days ago that, you know what, we have to think of the economy first.”
Notley said if Alberta does not manage to change the trajectory of its COVID-19 case rise, “the economy will be jeopardized and undermined and threatened in a way far more than any short-term limitations on economic activity might have done.
“And it’s not me saying that… that’s the International Monetary Fund,” she said.
Notley said if the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow at the current rate, she believes the health-care system will collapse and that Alberta’s economy will be “extremely damaged.”
She said her caucus has proposed a number of ideas to help small- and medium-sized business weather the storm of either the surge in case numbers or what she believes are necessary short-term restrictions that the government should impose.
Global News has reached out to the premier’s office for comment on Notley’s statements.
–With files from Global News’ Phil Heidenreich
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