Edmonton

Alberta reports four more COVID-19 deaths, 105 new cases

Alberta reported four more deaths from COVID-19 on Monday and 105 new cases of the illness.

More than 500 cases have been reported over the last three days

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the COVID-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday, March 20, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Alberta reported four more deaths from COVID-19 on Monday and 105 new cases of the illness.

The total number of deaths now sits at 59 and the total number of cases at 2,908.

Of those, 1,619 are active cases, while 1,230 people have recovered.

As of Monday, 100,898 Albertans have been tested for COVID-19.

The regional breakdown of cases is:

  • Calgary zone: 2,077
  • Edmonton zone: 438
  • South zone: 156
  • North zone: 143
  • Central zone: 77
  • Unknown: 17  

Public health officials are working to contain outbreaks in 29 continuing care centres across the province. Thirty-eight  residents in those nursing homes have died so far, including two in the last 24 hours.

Of the four people who died on Monday, one was a resident at Manoir Du Lac in McLennan and one was a resident at Carewest Sarcee in Calgary.

One death was in the Edmonton zone, while the other was a worker at the Cargill meat packing plant in High River. 

On Monday, the province announced it will advance $24.5 million to operators of continuing care centres to help address immediate cost pressures due to COVID-19.

Additional funding will allow for increased staffing of health-care aides to alleviate pressures in contracted continuing care facilities, the province said in a news release. That money will be used to:

  • Increase health-care aide staffing levels;
  • Provide a wage top-up of $2 per hour for health-care aides;
  • Up to 1,000 paid student practicum positions to fast-track certification and get more staff into continuing care facilities.

Starting Tuesday, Alberta Health Services will begin posting a daily list of all outbreaks in continuing care centres and hospitals, Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said at a news conference on Monday.

"I know that staff at continuing care facilities are doing everything they can to keep residents healthy and make sure they are properly cared for," Hinshaw said. "In many cases they are taking on the companionship and caregiving roles family members would normally perform when they visit. That is why I am pleased the government is providing additional support to health-care aides.

"I know restrictions on continuing-care facilities are taking a toll on residents, workers and family members missing their loved ones. The fact that these restrictions are necessary doesn't make the situation any easier.

"This support will help increase staffing at many facilities, and allow staff to spend more time caring for residents and providing companionship that many may be missing. This will support the mental health of residents and workers, as well as their physical health."

Extra money 2 weeks late, NDP says

NDP Opposition seniors and housing critic Lori Sigurdson said she was relieved to see the government provide surge funding for continuing care facilities to hire staff and give top-up pay for workers.

"But I am frustrated that it took two weeks of dithering from Jason Kenney and the UCP government to introduce these common-sense measures," Sigurdson said Monday in a statement.

The government should implement a centralized plan for staffing at continuing care facilities, she said.

"We know that facilities across the province, including McKenzie Towne and Manoir du Lac, saw significant losses in staffing, which contributed to their inability to deliver sufficient care. Other provinces have taken charge of this situation. It's completely irresponsible that [Health Minister] Tyler Shandro has failed to act."

The largest outbreak in the province is linked to the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River, south of Calgary, where 360 workers have tested positive for COVID-19. Another 124 cases of the illness have been linked to the plant, but are not Cargill workers.

Some people who worked in long-term care facilities in the Calgary zone where outbreaks had occurred lived in large households that also included Cargill workers, Hinshaw said.

Because of that, investigators had to figure out "several pieces of this puzzle with respect to the location," she said, referring to the Cargill plant.

Transmission of the virus was possible not only at the worksite but also when workers were carpooling to work and back, and in the households where they lived, Hinshaw said.

​"One of the things we need to learn from this outbreak is ​we can't focus solely on a worksite," Hinshaw said. "We need to consider the lives and the different parts of people's day, and where they are and where they might be exposed, because if we only focus on one particular site it will be very challenging to control spread."

The company announced on Monday it will temporarily shut down the plant.

Another outbreak of 20 cases has been linked to the Kearl Lake oilsands facility north of Fort McMurray. Twelve of those cases are in Alberta and eight are in other provinces, Hinshaw said.

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