Alberta's top doctor warns public against COVID-19 complacency

With new case numbers declining and summer on the way, Alberta may get a break from COVID-19, but the province's chief medical officer is warning the public not to become complacent.

Province reports 4 more deaths and 33 new cases on Thursday

Dr. Deena Hinshaw will provide another COVID-19 update on Thursday. (Art Raham/CBC)

With new case numbers declining and summer on the way, Alberta may get a break from COVID-19, but the province's chief medical officer is warning the public not to become complacent.

"I think it's really important for us to remember, and not get lulled into a false sense of security, to feel like COVID is over or the pandemic is over," Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday during her most recent news conference.

"Even if we are able to control it over the summer, we need to remember that moving into the fall we always see a spike in, for example, influenza, [and] other respiratory viruses. So we just need to continually practise the good public health measures."

In the past, respiratory viruses have declined over the summer, Hinshaw said.

While no one knows for sure whether COVID-19 will follow that pattern, it's reasonable to think that Alberta may get a break over the summer as people spend more time outdoors, where there is good air circulation and fewer surfaces to touch, she said.

Building good habits about physical distancing and hand washing can help, she said, not just during relaunch and over the next few weeks but over the long haul, because when summer ends and autumn returns COVID-19 and other viruses are expected to to return as well.

Latest numbers

Alberta reported four more COVID-19 deaths on Thursday and 33 new cases of the disease.

The four people who died were all residents of continuing-care centres in Calgary.

  • A man is his 80s at Extendicare Hillcrest
  • A woman in her 90s at Chartwell Eau Claire Retirement Residences
  • A woman in her 80s at Intercare Brentwood Care Centre
  • A man in his 70s at Carewest Sarcee​​​​​​

Hinshaw said the average age of those who have died from COVID-19 was 82 years, which is why long-term care and other continuing-care facilities remain a priority.

"We will continue to monitor outbreaks at these facilities and take additional measures as necessary to protect the health of residents and staff," Hinshaw said.

There are now 926 active cases in the province, with 5,710 people listed as recovered and 132 deaths.

On Thursday, 59 people were in hospital being treated for the illness, with six of them in ICU beds.

The 33 new cases were confirmed from a pool of 4,017 tests conducted over the past 24 hours.

Regional breakdown

Of the 6,768 total cases reported since the beginning of the pandemic in March, the regional breakdown as of Thursday was:

  • Calgary zone: 744 active, 3,853 recovered  
  • South zone: 97 active, 1,111 recovered
  • Edmonton zone: 61 active, 451 recovered  
  • North zone: 16 active, 199 recovered
  • Central zone: 5 active, 93 recovered  
  • Unknown: 3 active, 21 recovered  

It has been two months since Alberta's daily new COVID-19 numbers have been consistently this low.

Over the past week, the province has reported the lowest daily numbers since mid-March.

  • Thursday, May 21, 33 new cases
  • Wednesday, May 20, 19 new cases
  • Tuesday, May 19, 33 new cases
  • Monday, May 18, 39 new cases
  • Sunday, May 17, 57 new cases
  • Saturday, May 16, 72 new cases
  • Friday, May 15, 58 new cases
  • Thursday, May 14, 50 new cases

On Thursday, the total number of active cases in the province was again below 1,000. That total has also steadily declined over the past week.

  • Thursday, May 21, 926 total active cases
  • Wednesday, May 20, 970 total active cases
  • Tuesday, May 19, 1,004 total active cases
  • Monday, May 18, 1,064 total active cases
  • Sunday, May 17, 1,084 total active cases
  • Saturday, May 16, 1,073 total active cases
  • Friday, May 15, 1,131 total active cases
  • Thursday, May 14, 1,211 total active cases

"We continue to see a downward trend across the province in active cases," Hinshaw said. "While it is too early to see the full impact of the relaunch, so far our case numbers have held steady."

A hardship for many

The public health measures put in place have meant hardship for many people, she said, but the decisions were made to save lives.

"I know that many Albertans, especially those in Calgary and Brooks, continue to be concerned about the more gradual reopening compared to the rest of the province. I understand residents and businesses are eager to see more businesses resume operations, and that the wait is taking a toll

"I want to thank those in Calgary and across the province for doing their work to protect others ... and that is a large part of why these numbers have continued to decline."

It's important for people to remember that COVID-19 still poses a major threat, said Hinshaw, who reminded the public to continue to follow public health guidelines.

"We do not want to jeopardize all that Albertans have risked and sacrificed by reopening prematurely," she said. "Reopening gradually allows us to monitor any increase in spread from open retail, daycares and other activities in Calgary and Brooks, where the baseline rate was higher last week.

At this point the province is not seeing a concerning increase in numbers in Calgary or Brooks and overall cases continue to be stable, she said.

Major outbreaks at meatpacking plants in High River and Brooks contributed significantly to the overall case numbers in those cities.

The Cargill plant in High River now has only five active cases, with 943 recovered, Hinshaw said. At JBS in Brooks, there are 10 active cases and 640 workers have recovered.

"All of these signs are encouraging. But the next few days remain critical. Should we continue to see these encouraging results, we are hopeful that we will be able to move forward with the gradual reopening in Calgary and Brooks."

Progress on the relaunch plan still depends on the province's ability to keep infection rates low, she said.

In all, 206,778 people in Alberta have been tested for COVID-19.


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