Positive turn on masks, distancing credited as Alberta's new COVID-19 cases drop over weekend

The fact that new COVID-19 cases dropped below 100 for four straight days over the long weekend appears to show that Albertans are following public health guidelines about wearing masks and physical distancing, says the province's top doctor.

'Today's data shows our collective power to take on COVID-19 and limit its spread'

Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says that the fight against COVID-19 comes down to "caring for each other the way you would want yourself and your loved ones to be cared for and continuing to be kind". (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The fact that new COVID-19 cases dropped below 100 for four straight days over the long weekend appears to show that Albertans are following public health guidelines about wearing masks and physical distancing, says the province's top doctor.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, began her Tuesday news conference by thanking Albertans for looking out for each other over the past few days.

"We heard many positive reports of mask use and of people following the public health guidance that we've put into place," she said. "There is no silver bullet that will make any setting completely risk free and no region or community that is free from the virus. However, today's data shows our collective power to take on COVID-19 and limit its spread." 

The downward trend began on Friday, when 97 new cases were reported. That was followed by:

  • 67 new cases on Saturday.
  • 74 new cases on Sunday.
  • 65 cases on Monday.

On Saturday, bylaws requiring masks be worn in public places went into effect in both Edmonton and Calgary.

"Two weeks ago, I called our numbers a wake-up call," Hinshaw said. "Today, we're starting to see the results of Albertans answering that challenge.

"It's our hypothesis that one reason for these lower case numbers is that we have had a response from Albertans in general to follow more of the public health guidance than perhaps they were before."

Statistics released Tuesday by the City of Edmonton seem to support that theory.

The city said enforcement officers patrolled 160 areas over the long weekend, including transit, recreation centres, places of worship, businesses, restaurants and malls. They found that more than 80 per cent of people were wearing facial coverings.

"We're extremely pleased with how Edmontonians have embraced the new bylaw and are committed to helping keep their fellow citizens safe," David Aitken, chair of the City of Edmonton's COVID-19 task team, said in a news release. "Peace officers and city staff will continue to help people understand the new bylaw and the importance of facial coverings in slowing the spread of COVID-19." 

No fines were issued in Edmonton over the weekend, the city said.

Hinshaw said she and her team will continue to track the numbers closely to see if they can identify what key changes may have driven the numbers down.

Five more deaths

The most recent data reported another five deaths In Alberta, including three at the Good Samaritan Southgate Care Centre in Edmonton. In total, 201 deaths are now attributed to COVID-19.

    The outbreak at the Good Samaritan facility is now the deadliest in the province, with the facility reporting 24 deaths on its website on Tuesday. There have been 112 cases at the centre — 80 residents and 32 staff — since the first death was reported on July 17. The outbreak at the centre was declared on June 13. 

    Currently, there are 42 active cases among residents and 20 among staff members, while 14 residents and 12 employees have now recovered from the illness, the facility said in its latest update. The centre, at 4225 107th St., has about 180 residents.

    "This outbreak underlines the importance of our collective efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the most vulnerable members of our community," Hinshaw said. "Part of this protection requires continually evaluating our response efforts and using the best available evidence to update our approach when warranted."

    The most recent update reported 1,191 active cases in the province, down from the 1,386 cases reported as the province headed into the long weekend.

    On Tuesday there were 85 people being treated in Alberta hospitals, 23 of them in ICU beds. The province conducted more than 34,000 COVID-19 tests over the past four days.

    The province announced new guidelines Tuesday that will make it mandatory for students in grades four to 12 to wear masks when schools reopen in the fall.

    Hinshaw said health officials continue to learn more about the virus each day.

    "It is important to remember how far our understanding of COVID-19 has come," she said. "In March, we did not know much about this virus. We did not know how it spread among children, whether children were a high-risk group, and what sorts of locations or gatherings were major drivers of spread."

    That lack of knowledge forced public health officials to make decisions, including shutting down schools, based on their understanding of how other viruses, like influenza, had spread in the past, she said.

    "We know that the burden of COVID-19 is higher in adults, and that younger children are less likely to transmit to each other, although transmission can still occur," Hinshaw said. "Evidence in jurisdictions around the world suggest that schools do not appear to be a major driver of community spread."

    The virus has been present in Alberta for at least five months, she said, and will be here for many months to come. Closing schools has significant emotional, physical and mental health impacts on children, particularly those who are most vulnerable.

    "All of these acts have informed the guidance that I have provided to schools. Returning to school with precautions in place seeks to balance all the needs of our children. There is no one perfect way to respond to COVID-19, each path has advantages and challenges.

    "I have children in school, I have nieces and nephews in school, I have friends and family members who teach or work in schools. I have a very strong interest not only in the safety and health of all Albertans — that's my job, and I take that very seriously — but I have many people who I personally love and care about who will be in schools in the fall.

    "I have provided my best advice and recommendations with respect to school re-entry and the recommendations that I have made based on best evidence, as you heard this morning, have been accepted and supported."

    'Now is the time'

    Hinshaw thanked Albertans for following public health guidelines, which she said may have helped bring down case numbers in recent days.

    "The choices we all make now will determine caseloads through late August and early September," she said. "It is within our control to get cases as low as possible for the fall, to support students returning to school and businesses that are returning to work.

    "Now is the time to make changes for your kids who want to be able to go back to school in the fall. Now is also the time to teach your children how to safely put on, wear and take off a mask."