Edmonton

Alberta to give $170 million in extra funding to operators of seniors homes

The province will give $14.2 million a month in extra funding to the operators of continuing-care centres, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to pay for more staff and for extra cleaning during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Alberta's health minister.

New funding will be retroactive to March 15, health minister says

Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw provided her latest update on COVID-19 on Tuesday. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The province will give $14.2 million a month in extra funding to the operators of continuing-care centres, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to pay for more staff and for extra cleaning during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Alberta's health minister.

Tyler Shandro announced the new funding, which will be retroactive to March 15, at a news conference on Tuesday.

The funding will cost the province about $170 million this year, Shandro said.

Operators will be required to report how they spend the money, the province said in a news release, and facilities will need to return money not spent on COVID-related purposes.

The extra funding will continue until the orders from Alberta's chief medical officer of health are lifted and will be distributed in co-ordination with Alberta Health Services and Alberta Seniors and Housing.

33 new cases

Alberta reported 33 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily number since April 9.

A total of 201 new cases were identified over the past four days, fewer than the province reported on May 1 alone.

No new deaths were reported.

Though Stage 1 of Alberta's relaunch plan is well underway, the chief medical officer of health said it's too early to see the full impact of reopening much of the province.

"So far the numbers are good, they're very stable, which is excellent, that's what I would want to see," said Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

It's important to remember that while the incubation period is up to 14 days the average incubation period is five to eight days, she said. Since the reopening happened on Thursday, this week will be critical, with a more accurate understanding of the impact likely available by mid-week.

"I expect over the next couple of days as we see the daily case counts, that's what we're going to be looking to very closely," Hinshaw said.

"But certainly the numbers to date have been good, and I commend those in Calgary and Brooks who are taking the necessary measures even as retail businesses have opened, and some additional activities have opened, to continue to follow the public health measures to prevent transmission.

"And also those who have come forward to offer to be tested though they have no symptoms. That also is going to help us get a better understanding of what kind of infection rate there is in the community."

More asymptomatic test results

Laboratories have received results from more than 3,400 tests done on asymptomatic people in Calgary, she said, with 430 of those tests done on close contacts of confirmed cases. In that group, there were 75 positive results.

"There were only 48 positive results in the remaining 3,000 people tested, showing that the likelihood of infection is much greater when there is a known exposure," she said.

Those who signed up for asymptomatic testing before Monday will be offered tests this week.

"We need to remember that being safe, while relaunching the economy, can save lives," Hinshaw said. "The virus is still with us and we must do everything we can to prevent the spread at home, when we are out, and when we are at work.

"I want to remind you that working remotely where possible is still recommended until Stage 2 of our relaunch."

Sweden's approach

Hinshaw said she is often asked about the pandemic response adopted by Sweden, where the government put minimum stay-at-home or physical-distancing orders in place and instead recommended that people take such steps wherever possible.

That country has seen more than 30,000 cases of COVID-19 and reported more than 3,700 deaths.

"I, too, have been following Sweden's experience," Hinshaw said. "There are a few things to note about the impacts they have felt, and the differences between Sweden and Alberta.

More than half of all households in Sweden are single-person households, she said, which makes physical distancing much easier. In Alberta, less than one-quarter of all households have only one person. Sweden capped gatherings at 50 people, closed high schools and post-secondary institutions, she said, and enforced physical-distancing restrictions where they were needed.

"Sweden's advice-based rather than regulatory approach came at some cost," Hinshaw said. "As of yesterday, their toll was 3,698 deaths. That is 36 deaths per 100,000 in their population, which is 12 times Alberta's rate of three per 100,000 population.

"In addition, their ICU admission rate was 18 times Alberta's."

'Costs to every choice'

Despite Sweden's less stringent approach to the pandemic, their economy has shrunk in a similar way to neighbouring countries that used much more aggressive containment measures, she said.

"My point is not that there is one right or wrong way to deal with the pandemic, but rather that there are costs to every choice. In Sweden, there has been a cost of higher death rates.

"In Alberta, as elsewhere around the world, there has been a cost of temporary restrictions on some freedoms. We have not seen a high attack rate or death toll here because Albertans have protected each other by our actions."

As of Tuesday, 61 people were in Alberta hospitals with COVID-19, eight of them in intensive care beds. 

There were 1,004 active cases in the province on Tuesday, with 5,584 people listed as recovered. The total number of deaths remained at 128.

With the daily number of COVID-19 cases down over the past few days, Hinshaw will no longer hold daily news conferences to update the numbers.

She is scheduled to host two live updates this week, one Tuesday and another on Thursday, while next week she will speak on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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