Despite grim COVID-19 numbers, Alberta premier sees brighter days ahead
Province reports five more COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday and 306 new cases
While the province reported its highest single-day number of COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, there was some hesitant talk from Alberta officials about better times ahead.
Premier Jason Kenney told a news conference that Alberta has made great progress in slowing the spread of coronavirus and still has relatively few people being treated in hospitals for COVID-19.
"I know this is getting increasingly difficult for Albertans, but I do believe with the progress we've made that we can see light at the end of the tunnel here," Kenney said. "And we are doing so much better than many other jurisdictions, exactly because Albertans have risen to the challenge."
Seventy people are currently in hospital for COVID-19, with 18 of them in intensive care units, hospitalization numbers that are well below the level projected in the Alberta Health Services modelling released two weeks ago, the premier said.
If people remain vigilant about personal hygiene, if they stay at home, maintain physical distancing, wear face coverings in crowded public places and observe public health orders, Alberta will be able to look at cautiously restarting the economy "as soon as possible," based on the advice of public health officials, Kenney said.
The province's top public health official also spoke cautiously about the future.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health, said Alberta would have to meet two key measurements before health restrictions could be eased.
The first would be stable or declining rates of hospitalization along with a stable or declining number of cases over a period one or two weeks.
"The other part of the picture is where those cases are coming from," she said, "and if we have the ability to identify that many of them are from one particular location or outbreak, and if we have the means to control that outbreak."
Kenney said he will meet Thursday with the province's relaunch working group and hopes to have an update for the public next week with more details about Alberta's strategy.
Five more people in Alberta died from COVID-19 and the province reported 306 new cases of the illness over the past 24 hours.
That brought the total number of cases to 3,401, and the number of deaths to 66.
A total of 4,151 tests for the illness were conducted in those 24 hours.
As of Wednesday, 108,521 people had been tested, an average of 2,164 tests per day since March 4, Kenney said.
Kenney announced that Alberta is again sending medical equipment to help Quebec, the province hit hardest by the pandemic, where more than 1,300 people are in hospital, more than 200 of them in intensive care.
The province will send 25 ventilators to Quebec, the premier said.
Quebec has more than 21,000 cases of COVID-19, and has seen more than 1,100 deaths.
Alberta currently has about 600 ventilators in its stockpile, Kenney said, and on any given day uses about 100 of the machines to treat patients with COVID-19 and other serious illnesses.
"Our rates of infection, hospitalization, ICU admissions and ventilator use are much, much lower and far below what we had modelled," Kenney said. "And our stockpile of medical equipment, including ventilators, remains far larger than both our current and anticipated needs, even based on the elevated model that we released two weeks ago.
"We project that we will have a margin of several hundred ventilators, even at the peak of the pandemic, in Alberta. Given that abundance of supply, we cannot stand by indifferently as COVID threatens the lives of our fellow Canadians in other areas, including Quebec."
Later this week, the province will send 20,000 procedural masks to Northwest Territories, Kenney said.
Alberta also reported its first case on a First Nation on Wednesday.
One person on Sucker Creek First Nation, about 22 kilometres east of High Prairie, has tested positive, Hinshaw said. The person on the First Nation was in contact with someone with COVID-19 in High Prairie, she said.
The First Nation is well prepared to deal with COVID-19, Hinshaw said, though the residents there are already dealing with flooding.
"I'd like to commend Sucker Creek First Nation for showing exceptional resilience, with support from a strong partnership of health services and all levels of government," she said. "And they have my best wishes as they deal with this issue of the flood."
The regional breakdown of the cases is:
- Calgary zone: 2,396
- Edmonton zone: 451
- South zone: 303
- North zone: 150
- Central zone: 79
- Unknown: 20
There are 375 cases of COVID-19 at continuing care facilities in the province, which have recorded 44 deaths do far, Hinshaw said.
An outbreak linked to the Kearl Lake oilsands facility north of Fort McMurray has expanded to 32 cases, Hinshaw said. Twenty-five of the cases are people in Alberta, with 10 of them in isolation at the work camp itself. Five of the linked cases are people in B.C. and one each is from Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia.
The biggest outbreak in the province involves a Cargill meat-processing plant in High River. As of Tuesday, 401 workers from the plant had tested positive. One worker had died, and another 114 cases have been linked to that outbreak.