Alberta reaches 'tragic milestone' with 500th COVID-19 death

The province reported nine more deaths and 1,265 new cases, and the total of 13,719 active cases was the highest number yet.

Province again broke records on Wednesday, with 13,719 active cases and 355 people in hospital

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, updated the province on the COVID-19 pandemic at a news conference on Wednesday. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Alberta reached a "tragic milestone" on Wednesday in recording its 500th COVID-19 death, and again broke records for cases and hospitalizations.

The province reported nine more deaths and 1,265 new cases, and the total of 13,719 active cases was the highest number yet.

There have now been 50,081 cases of the respiratory illness in Alberta since the pandemic began in March.

Other records also fell on Wednesday, with 355 patients being treated in hospitals for the illness, including 71 in ICU beds.

To deal with the growing case numbers and numerous outbreaks in acute-care facilities, Alberta Health plans to make available more than 2,000 acute-care beds and up to 400 ICU beds for patients with COVID-19 across the province in the coming weeks, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday at a news conference.

"In some cases, these will be new beds," Hinshaw said. "In other cases, these beds are existing hospital spaces that will be made available as patients are moved into continuing-care beds in the community."

To make the extra space available, AHS will transfer some patients out of acute care to continuing care wherever possible, move patients to open beds in other parts of the province, repurpose other clinical areas to provide ICU care, and, if needed, reduce additional non-urgent surgeries, she said.

"I would hope that we never have to utilize that volume of beds for COVID-19 patients," she said, "because that would result in the stopping of not just the elective surgeries, but we might even have to move to even more urgent surgeries being postponed to get to that level of beds.

"So I want to make sure that the health-care workers who are currently working incredibly hard, and to whom I am deeply grateful, know that the measures that are being put in place, that were put in place yesterday, and any additional recommendations we make based on watching our trends, will be made to minimize the chance that we will ever need to use those maximum numbers of beds."  

New hospital rules

Effective Wednesday, AHS has changed visitation rules for acute-care hospitals with outbreaks, or in communities that are under enhanced status. The changes are:

  • For patients admitted to hospital and in ambulatory care, including emergency departments, only one designated family or support person will be permitted.
  • For maternity and postpartum units, one designated family or support person will be permitted.
  • For pediatrics and NICU, as well as critical care, up to two designated family or support persons are permitted.
  • In end-of-life situations, one designated family or support person is permitted, and the presence of any other visitors must be pre-arranged with the site or unit.

"We recognize that these restrictions are very difficult for patients, families, loved ones, staff and physicians," Hinshaw said. "But these temporary measures are being implemented to help reduce exposure and spread of the virus in AHS facilities."

Nine more deaths were reported on Wednesday, bringing the total to 500, which Hinshaw called "a tragic milestone."

  • A woman in her 90s and a man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Edmonton Chinatown Care Centre in the Edmonton zone.
  • A man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at Covenant Care Chateau Vitaline in the Edmonton zone.
  • A man in his 80s in the Calgary zone
  • A woman in her 50s linked to the outbreak at Lewis Estates Retirement Residence in the Edmonton zone.
  • A man in his 70s from the Edmonton zone.
  • A woman in her 80s linked to the outbreak at Grey Nuns Community Hospital in the Edmonton zone.
  • A woman in her 90s linked to the outbreak at Villa Marguerite in the Edmonton zone.
  • A man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Lake Bonavista Villa in the Calgary zone.

Grim statistics

The pandemic has exploded over the past few weeks, logging grim statistics that are many times higher than those seen during the first wave in the spring.

On Nov. 12, with case numbers rising sharply, the Alberta government brought in new "targeted measures" intended to slow the spread of  COVID-19.

There were 8,626 active cases in the province that day, with 232 people in hospital being treated for the illness. The death toll stood at 393.

So the province announced a two-week ban on group fitness classes, team sport activities and group performance activities in and around Edmonton, Calgary, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Fort McMurray and Red Deer.

Restaurants, bars, lounges and pubs in those regions were ordered to stop liquor sales by 10 p.m. and close by 11 p.m. The province strongly recommended that no social gatherings be held in private homes.

A week later, the numbers still rising, Alberta had 10,691 active cases, with 306 people in hospital. The death toll had reached 462.

On Tuesday, after the passage of another week, the active case total had climbed to 13,349, and Alberta hospitals were treating 348 people for the illness, including 66 in ICU beds.

Faced with a raging pandemic, the government rolled out a suite of new restrictions that included a prohibition on all social gatherings in people's homes and made masks mandatory for all indoor workplaces in the province's two largest cities.

The restriction on social gatherings does not apply to visits by caregivers or health-care or child-care providers, Hinshaw said, or to co-parenting arrangements or shared households.

"Raising your family is not a social gathering," she said. "If your children live part-time with one family member and part-time with another, this can continue. If you live part-time in one household and part-time in another household, this can also continue.

"But as I said yesterday, I urge Albertans not to look for ways to get around the rules. Do not take advantage of exceptions that are in place for those that need them in order to avoid measures you simply don't want to follow.

"If you host a gathering in your backyard, guests cannot be coming into your house to use the washroom, get snacks or warm up. If they are coming inside your home for any reason, that is an indoor gathering."