Number of cases of coronavirus in Alberta grows to 29, all travel-related

The number of coronavirus cases in Alberta has grown by six to 29, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced Friday.

5 new cases reported in Calgary, 1 new case in Edmonton

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks to the media at the Alberta Legislature on Friday, March 13, 2020. (Sam Martin/CBC)

The number of coronavirus cases in Alberta has grown by six to 29, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced Friday.

All cases are travel-related, he said.

Kenney was attending the daily news conference usually hosted by Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

Hinshaw said more than a quarter of the Alberta cases are related to travel in the United States.

One of the new cases involves a man from the Edmonton zone who recently attended a conference in Vancouver and was notified that a positive case had attended the same conference. After returning, he visited a number of dental offices. 

As soon as the man tested positive, health officials took immediate action, the province said in a news release. All people who may have been at risk of exposure have been contacted for assessment and testing.

The other new cases are in the Calgary zone. They include a returning traveller from Florida and four household contacts of a previously confirmed case.

All new cases are now self-isolated expected to make a full recovery.

One of the previously announced cases remains in hospital in stable condition. All other Alberta COVID-19 patients are recovering at home.

As of Friday's update, there are 20 cases in the Calgary zone, eight cases in the Edmonton zone and one case in the central zone. 

School closures not needed, Hinshaw says

Hinshaw said schools do not need to close as part of the containment effort. The government said its emergency management cabinet committee is recommending schools remain open — with mitigations to protect teachers and students.

"Any school closure would need to be in place for months, not weeks, to be effective," Hinshaw told Friday's news conference. "I have advised that school closures not be implemented at this time.

"But steps should be taken to ensure that no more than 250 individuals are in the same room at any given time."

She said other provinces and countries have closed schools as a preventive measure, but that closures "are not universally agreed on as an effective intervention to prevent spread.

"It should also be noted that the World Health Organization does not recommend school closure as the only way to prevent spread in the age group of young children," she said.

Hinshaw said she will share advice with school administrators on Saturday. Post-secondary institutions have not been advised to close at this time.

Health Link and a new assessment tool

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the Health Link line is regularly receiving more than 6,300 calls a day.

Alberta Health Services has doubled the staffing and is training more staff for "this critical role," Shandro said, asking Albertans to be patient and stay on the line until their call is answered.

He recommended calling Health Link outside of peak times, which are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m.

People waiting for test results should not call Health Link, he said, because they will be called directly.

Albertans can find more information at alberta.ca/COVID19.

A new self-assessment tool is now online at ahs.ca/covid. It's the same one used by Health Link staff to determine if a person needs to be tested.

Paid job-protected leave

The government announced Friday it is implementing paid job-protected leave for people who are required to self-isolate or are caring for a loved one with COVID-19.

Employees will be able to take 14 days of paid job-protected leave to cover the 14-day self-isolation period recommended by Hinshaw.

As well, there will be no requirement to have a medical note for such leave, or to have worked for an employer for 90 days to qualify.

Dramatic change since March 5

From cancelling events to restrictions on public gatherings, the situation in Alberta has changed dramatically since the province's first case was confirmed on March 5. 

Hinshaw ​​​​​​has been holding daily news conferences to keep the public aware of the spread of the virus and any new government health directives intended to protect the public from the pandemic.

The Calgary zone now has 20 cases, while the Edmonton zone has eight and the central zone, one.

According to an update on the Alberta government website Friday, 4,265 Albertans have tested negative. 

Hinshaw urged Albertans not to travel outside Canada. In her news conference Thursday, Hinshaw recommended all public gatherings of more than 250 people be cancelled.

Those outside the country right now are asked to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return.

Hinshaw also urged the cancellation of any event with more than 50 attendees that include international participants or other high-risk groups like seniors.

The recommendation to cancel big events does not extend to places of worship, grocery stores, airports or shopping centres.