Alberta’s chief medical officer of health announced Friday that three more people in the province have died and 218 more people have been diagnosed. Dr. Deena Hinshaw also revealed her team is continuing to learn more about the disease and how it impacts people in various demographics.
“We have learned a great deal about this virus,” she told reporters at a news conference in Edmonton.
Hinshaw said data collected about Alberta coronavirus cases suggest oldest people are at the highest risk, but age doesn’t seem to be much of a factor in determining who becomes infected — the average age of infections is 41.5 years, and cases are being seen in every age group.
Hinshaw said her public health team is getting a better understanding of what symptoms are most common in COVID-19 cases. The most common symptom is a cough, something 62.5 per cent of people with COVID-19 reported having. That symptom is followed by a sore throat at 33 per cent and fever at 28 per cent. In 7.5 per cent of confirmed COVID-19 cases to date, people showed no symptoms at all when they were tested.
Hinshaw also said her team is looking more closely at what factors play a role in severe cases that require hospitalization, admission to intensive care units and, in some cases, even see people die. She said her team is looking at nine different conditions like cancer, respiratory disease, high blood pressure and obesity and what role they may be playing in the health outcomes of people who become ill with COVID-19.
She said data suggests people between 30 and 64 years of age are more likely to have a severe outcome if they have one of those conditions. COVID-19 cases in which people are 65 or older are almost five times more likely to require hospitalization or to die, Hinshaw noted.
She said the most common factors in severe cases are old age, obesity and immunodeficiency.
“The risk of these severe outcomes increases the older a person is, so risk is higher for those over 80 years old than for those between 65 and 79.”
Hinshaw noted that to try and reduce the likelihood of people getting seriously ill with COVID-19 if they contract the disease, they could start now by exercising, quitting smoking or cutting back, and eating healthier foods.
“I encourage every Albertan to take an active role in their health and in our collective health,” she said.
“So bringing this all together, I can distil two key lessons for Albertans. One is the importance of everyone monitoring ourselves for COVID[-19] symptoms and should they occur, isolating yourself until they disappear and going online to arrange for a COVID[-19] test. I know I keep repeating this message, but I cannot overstate how critical this step is to protecting the health of those around you.
“I encourage all of you to be mindful of what your body is telling you and stay home if you have a cough, fever, runny nose, sore throat or difficulty breathing.”
New COVID-19 deaths and cases
Of the three new COVID-19 deaths recorded over the past 24 hours, Hinshaw said all three involved people at continuing care centres that have outbreaks.
The latest fatalities are a man in his 80s from J.B. Wood Continuing Care in High Prairie, Alta., a man in his 70s and a woman in her 80s from Millrise Place in Calgary.
“My thoughts and sympathies go out to everyone grieving the loss of a loved one today,” she said.
Hinshaw said the total number of COVID-19 fatalities in Alberta now stands at 92, while the total number of cases is at 5,573. Of those cases, 580 are linked to outbreaks at continuing care centres.
Of Alberta’s confirmed COVID-19 cases, 3,708 have been in the Calgary zone, 1,033 in the South zone, 498 in the Edmonton zone, 215 in the North zone, 87 in the Central zone and in 32 cases, the zone has yet to be confirmed.
According to Alberta Health, there are currently 86 people in hospital, 22 of them are in intensive care units.
Health officials suspect 699 COVID-19 cases in the province were community-acquired.
Of all the COVID-19 fatalities in Alberta, Alberta Health said 59 have been in the Calgary zone, 15 in the North zone, 12 in the Edmonton zone, five in the South zone and one in the Central zone. Sixty-four residents at continuing care facilities have died.
Hinshaw said the number of cases now liked to the Cargill meat plant in High River, Alta., is 921.
“The extent of this outbreak demonstrates… how easily this virus can spread,” she said.
The number of cases connected to the JBS meat plant in Brooks, Alta., is 391.
Hinshaw said a new outbreak has been identified at an Amazon warehouse facility in Balzac, Alta. Five cases have now been linked to that facility, although Hinshaw noted it is not yet clear if all five are linked to one another.
“The outbreak investigation and response is led by local medical officers of health,” she said, noting her colleague told her a site inspection at Amazon has already taken place and that the facility already had many measures in place to prevent the spread of infection.
Hinshaw said the facility is being given advice on how to make their COVID-19 prevention measures even more robust.
She said health officials are looking to determine when the people at Amazon became sick and if there is a common exposure or risk factor.
“This is a very different kind of workplace than Cargill,” Hinshaw said, suggesting every workplace needs to figure out what makes them uniquely vulnerable to the novel coronavirus and take action to address those vulnerabilities.
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Amazon processing facility near Calgary
Two cases have now been recorded at Alpha House in Calgary, a facility that works to help vulnerable people living on the streets.
Supply issues hampering ability to expand testing
Hinshaw said Friday that because of “a significant global demand for testing supplies,” supply chain challenges mean Alberta’s COVID-19 testing capacity remains at about 7,000 per day.
“Testing remains a cornerstone of our strategy,” Hinshaw said. “Our testing capacity is really critical to be able to respond to the public health need.”
She said Alberta expects to be able to increase testing capacity to 10,000 tests a day by mid-May and hopes to expand on that before the end of the month.
To date, there have been 145,420 people tested for COVID-19 in Alberta, and a total of 153,766 tests performed by the lab. Over the past 24 hours, 4,829 tests have been completed, according to Alberta Health.
Alberta launches voluntary contact-tracing app
On Friday, the Alberta government launched a voluntary mobile app to be used for contact tracing in the fight to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The ABTraceTogether app will use wireless Bluetooth technology and serve to complement the work of health-care professionals. The government said it hopes the app will result in Albertans being contacted more quickly if they are at risk.
“Each one of us has a responsibility to do our part in the fight against COVID-19,” Hinshaw said. “ABTraceTogether was designed to help protect Albertans and prevent community spread by quickly alerting people who may be at risk.
“The more Albertans who use it, the better we will be able to protect individuals from being unknowingly exposed and possibly spreading the disease.”
Watch below: Some videos from Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s news conference in Edmonton on Friday.
Hinshaw apologizes for lack of clarity on changes to visitation rules at continuing care facilities
Hinshaw began Friday’s news conference by issuing an apology related to her announcement earlier this week about changes to visitor restrictions at continuing care facilities.
“I did not ensure that operators had been fully consulted or notified prior to the policy change,” she said. “I am sorry.
“This has put operators in a difficult position as they did not have time to prepare. I ask that families and friends of those in continuing care be patient with operators, who are working to adapt to the change and keep staff and residents safe. We all need to work together to protect this vulnerable population.”
With the aim of addressing mental health needs of both continuing care residents and their loved ones, Hinshaw announced the following public health orders this week to amend directives for continuing care facilities:
– Anyone with even mild symptoms must immediately be tested for COVID-19 and isolated until results come back
– As soon as a case is identified, all residents in that unit must be tested even if asymptomatic
– Any staff caring for an isolating client must wear PPE including glasses, masks, visors, gloves, gown
– Continuing care staff must only work at one location
– Residents of long-term care facilities who are not in isolation can enjoy outdoor visits with a designated essential visitor. All must wear masks and adhere to physical distancing
-With files from Global News’ Emily Mertz
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