42 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Alberta, pushing total to 301
11 health-care workers who attended curling bonspiel test positive for COVID-19
An investigation has determined that 11 of 47 Alberta health-care workers, most of them doctors, who attended an Edmonton curling bonspiel earlier this month have now tested positive for coronavirus.
Some doctors who participated in the curling event from March 11 to March 14 treated patients early last week, before health officials learned about the first illness related to the bonspiel, the province's chief medical officer of health said Monday at a news conference.
Testing was later conducted on the participants and all 47 health-care workers who attended the bonspiel are self-isolating, Dr Deena Hinshaw said.
The province reported 42 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the total in the province to 301.
Of the 301 cases, the majority are located in the Calgary zone. The total cases by region:
- Calgary zone: 188
- Edmonton zone: 68
- North zone: 19
- Central zone: 17
- South zone: 8
- Unknown: 1
About two dozen cases are thought to have been transmitted within the province, Hinshaw said. Eighteen people have been hospitalized, with seven of them in intensive care beds.
Alberta has been fighting a war on two fronts to slow the spread of the virus, Hinshaw said, and over the coming days public health officials will be closely watching those community transmission numbers.
"That is our biggest concern," she said. "I think we've dealt with, again, the one front of returning travellers with the measures we've put in place, and we need to make sure that those are being followed. And now the second front is where we need to focus our attention with community transmission."
Tests to detect the spread of the virus within the province will help officials understand whether current social distancing measures are sufficient, she said. But that understanding won't come over the next few days but over the next few weeks.
The goal is to slow the spread so there isn't a steep peak in the number of cases, where many people end up needing hospital care at the same time.
Hinshaw outlined changes to testing measures, which will now give priority to people who are most at risk of developing extreme symptoms or infecting others in the community.
That includes people who are hospitalized with respiratory illness, residents of continuing care and other similar facilities, and people who returned from travelling abroad between March 8 and March 12, before the self-isolation protocols were in place.
Anyone with symptoms who doesn't fit into any of these categories should stay home and self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days from the start of their symptoms, or until their symptoms resolve, whichever is longer.
However, all returning travellers should follow self-isolation guidelines and monitor symptoms for 14 days. They should also check recent domestic and international flights for confirmed cases.
Later this week, health-care workers will be added to the list of people given priority for testing, Hinshaw said, so those who test negative can "return to the front lines" as soon as possible.
"In an ideal world, we would be able to test Albertans who have symptoms of cough, fever and even mild symptoms," Hinshaw said. "It's unlikely we will be able to reach that kind of testing capacity to be able to test all Albertans even with mild symptoms."
Rather than get tested, she said, people with mild symptoms should stay home and self-isolate.
She also announced a new process will also be added to try to control the spread of the virus within hospitals.
Under the new policy, staff, doctors and contractors at health-care facilities will be met at the door and screened with temperature checks and a short questionnaire to assess health risk. Anyone deemed not fit to work will be told to return home and self-isolate, Hinshaw said.
Both Ontario and Quebec have ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses. Hinshaw said Alberta is slightly behind those provinces in terms of the spread of the virus, so that measure hasn't yet been deemed necessary here.
Since the incubation period for the virus is 14 days it will take at least that long to learn if testing protocols and social distancing measures are working, she said.
"The measures we're putting into place don't make the virus go away, they just slow down the spread," Hinshaw said.
"We only have so much testing capacity. The second front in the war that we're fighting is the potential spread in our communities.
"As of today, we have over 20 cases we believe have been acquired in our community. And we need to do more testing to understand what that spread is like. And health-care workers provide both an opportunity to understand that spread as well as making sure that we're helping those who are at greatest risk of being exposed."
Hinshaw highlighted that with warmer weather coming, Albertans need to be mindful to maintain social distancing when outdoors, but said maintaining connections with each other is important for mental wellbeing.
"We are all in this together," she said. "Now more than ever, we need to take care of each other. This means now more than ever keeping up physical distance and now more than ever finding creative ways to maintain our bonds and stay socially connected."
Hinshaw announced that a new text message subscription has been launched to send messages of encouragement during the COVID-19 pandemic. Albertans can text COVID19hope to 393939 to subscribe.