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Alberta is flattening COVID-19 curve as province plans staged reopening, top doctor says

Though Alberta has flattened the COVID-19 curve over the past week, public health officials will be closely monitoring to see that the numbers of cases and hospitalizations remain stable or decline, says the province's top doctor.

'I think we can take the reduction in the number of cases cautiously, as good news'

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the COVID-19 situation. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Though Alberta has flattened the COVID-19 curve over the past week, public health officials will be closely monitoring to see that the numbers of cases and hospitalizations remain stable or decline, says the province's top doctor.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, characterized the recent drop in the number of active cases as good news but cautioned Albertans that the virus will remain a reality for many months to come.

"We have, I think, flattened the curve in general, across the province, and some locations are more flat than others," Hinshaw said Wednesday during her latest COVID-19 update.

Higher case numbers reported last week were related to increased testing in areas with significant outbreaks, such as those linked to meat-packing plants in High River and Brooks, she said. Some of the people who were tested in those communities were asymptomatic.

"I think we can take the reduction in the number of cases cautiously, as good news," Hinshaw said. "We certainly want to see that. But I think we're still watching really closely because we know that, depending on the setting, even a few cases can spread quickly to others if there are groups gathered together where prevention measures are not being taken."

It's as important as ever for the public to follow prevention measures put in place over the past two months, she said.

"With respect to what kinds of numbers we're looking at, we really need to be seeing that our cases are stable or declining, our hospitalizations are stable or declining," Hinshaw said.

'We will continue to see some cases'

Hinshaw said she and her staff are trying to balance the need to prevent the spread of the virus and against the fundamental need people have for social connections, employment and recreation opportunities, which are also important in maintaining public health.

"So we will continue to see some cases," she said. "We may even see a slight rise in cases as we cautiously move into our relaunch phase. But what we don't want to see is any kind of a steep increase.

"We don't want to see an increase of greater than five per cent of our hospitalizations; we want to see that staying level, and ideally, as much as we can, try to make that flat or declining over time."

Alberta reported six more COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, and 70 new cases of the disease.

That brings the total number of deaths to 112 and the total number of cases in the province to 5,963, with 3,552 of those listed as recovered.

The number of active cases has steadily declined over the past three days, with 2,790 on Monday, 2,568 on Tuesday and 2,299 on Wednesday.

At present, 82 people are in hospital being treated for the illness, including 19 who are in intensive-care units.

The regional breakdown on the cases as of Wednesday was:

  • Calgary zone: 4,003
  • South zone: 1,111
  • Edmonton zone: 503
  • North zone: 229
  • Central zone: 91
  • Unknown: 26

7 weeks of daily updates

For more than seven weeks now, Hinshaw has provided the latest case numbers, issued public health orders, and spoken directly to Albertans about a pandemic that has changed almost every aspect of daily life.

In Update No. 1, on March 14, she said 10 additional cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed, bringing the total number in the province to 39.

The news release issued that afternoon confirmed eight of the new cases had been linked to international travel. A conference call was held that day with more than 500 representatives from Alberta's school boards, school authorities, and education stakeholders.

Alberta Health advised schools to eliminate large gatherings of students, to ensure no more than 250 people were in the same room at any time, and consider cancelling extracurricular activities that involved physical contact.

"Given the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, we know parents, students, and school officials are very concerned," Hinshaw said in that day's news release.

"I want to assure all Albertans that their children's safety is top of mind in all our decisions, and we are making the best public health decisions we can with the information we have, in this rapidly developing situation. We are prepared to make changes if and when the situation warrants it."

The next day, in Update No. 2, Alberta schools were ordered to close, post-secondary classes were cancelled, child-care facilities, out-of-school care programs and preschool programs were closed and long-term care and other continuing care facilities were advised to limit visitation to essential visitors only.

The total number of confirmed cases in Alberta that day was 56. 

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