Alberta entering 'danger zone' as COVID-19 cases continue to set records, top doctor says
'We're not yet at that point where our system is not able to cope, but we are getting closer'
With active case numbers breaking records for the second straight day, Alberta has entered the COVID-19 "danger zone," says the province's top doctor.
The province has not yet reached a situation that risks overwhelming the health system, but evidence from around the world shows just how fast the illness can spread and how quickly the pandemic can escalate, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday at a news conference.
"I would say right now we are in a danger zone, where the coming weeks will really tell that story about whether we are able collectively to bend that curve downward, by following all of that guidance that's already out there, that's up online," Hinshaw said.
"Or, if we start to tip the wrong way, and see our hospitals fill up, and impair our ability to do elective surgeries, impair our ability to offer services that our health-care system needs to be able to offer to others that are not COVID-related."
"So we're not yet at that point where our system is not able to cope, but we are getting closer."
WATCH | Dr. Deena Hinshaw says Alberta is not out of the woods when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic
Alberta reported 323 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and one more death, again breaking the record of the number of active cases.
There were 3,203 active cases across the province, according to the latest update.
The most recent death was a man in his 70s who was linked to an outbreak at Terra Losa Lifestyle Options in Edmonton zone.
A total of 293 people in Alberta have died from the illness since March.
Active case numbers in Alberta have been rising steadily since the beginning of October and reached record numbers over the past two days.
The regional breakdown of active cases was:
- Edmonton zone: 1,607
- Calgary zone: 1,043
- South zone: 199
- North zone: 198
- Central zone: 145
- Unknown: 11
As of Tuesday there were 116 people being treated in hospitals for the illness, including 16 in ICU beds.
The case total in the Edmonton zone — which has more than half the current number of active cases — continues to be concerning, almost two weeks since additional voluntary measures were put in place for the region.
"There is some good news in Edmonton. The rate of growth has started to slow somewhat, and our R-value in Edmonton has come down from 1.35 to 1.117."
The R0, also called the reproduction number, is a mathematical term that shows how contagious an infectious disease is. The current number in Edmonton indicates that each case is transmitted to 1.117 people.
"This is a good start, but the bad news is that any time the R value remains above one, the number of cases is still growing," Hinshaw said.
"We need to bring this value below one to reduce the burden on our health system."
Asymptomatic testing dialled back
Hinshaw also announced that the province will no longer be testing people without COVID-19 symptoms and have not had contact with anyone who has been infected.
In mid-September, Alberta dialled back asymptomatic testing, reserving it only for priority groups.
"Even with this shift, since that time our labs have been processing more tests than ever before," Hinshaw said. "Wait times for results have not decreased as much as they need to, in order to use lab-test information to prevent spread in an optimal way."
Effective immediately, all asymptomatic testing will be halted for people who have no known exposure, she said.
"This is an important and necessary step that will help us reduce testing wait times, get results to Albertans, and limit the spread."
Testing will continue for people with symptoms, and for those with close contact to a COVID-19 case and those linked to an outbreak.
"These are our top priorities, and the people most likely to have COVID-19," Hinshaw said.
AHS and community pharmacies will no longer be booking new testing appointments for asymptomatic people, she said. Appointments that have already been booked will be kept up to Nov. 4.
The province has completed more than 659,000 tests on asymptomatic people with no known exposure, she said, and of those only 0.11 per cent came back positive. That means only about one in 1,000 people with no symptoms and no exposure has tested positive, on average, over the past seven months.
"This means it is very rare to find cases in those without symptoms and without known exposures. We need to focus our testing where it counts, so that anyone with symptoms, including children held home from school, and anyone who is a close contact or part of an outbreak, gets results as quickly as possible.
In the last week, about 30 per cent of all COVID-19 tests were for people who had no exposure and no symptoms, she said.