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'Our health system is in trouble,' Alberta's top doctor warns during COVID-19 update

The latest restrictions brought in by the government, including mandatory masks across Alberta and the closing of many businesses, sends the public a clear and present warning about how serious the pandemic has become, says the province's top public-health doctor.

Province reports 1,566 new cases, with total of 20,163 active cases

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw provided her latest COVID-19 update at a news conference on Thursday. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The latest restrictions brought in by the government, including mandatory masks across Alberta and the closing of many businesses, sends the public a clear and present warning about how serious the pandemic has become, says the province's top public-health doctor.

The decision made this week to bring in new measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 was made knowing that each restriction will have other consequences and impacts on people's lives and health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said at a news conference Thursday.

"With the suite of restrictions that were just announced this week, we know that the broad sweeping changes that have been put in place will reduce the number of close contacts that people have on a regular daily basis," she said.

"We also know that the messaging that we are clearly providing to Albertans is our health system is in trouble and we need to work together to save it."

The seriousness of the situation is underscored by the fact Albertans will be unable to celebrate the holidays this year with family and friends, she said.

"We can't tell for sure what that future brings, but I do believe that these measures that are put in place will have an impact on our spread," Hinshaw said. "And of course the full impact will be up to Albertans, and we'll be watching very closely to make sure that this is going to be sufficient.

"Ultimately it's in the hands of Albertans to follow all of the guidance. If all of these measures, these legally-mandated measures, are followed, then the numbers will, I believe, come down."

Latest numbers

The total number of active COVID-19 cases in Alberta dipped slightly on Thursday for the second day in a row.

The province reported 1,566 new cases and had a total of 20,163 active cases, down 36 from the day before. 

Across Alberta, 682 people were being treated in hospitals for COVID-19, including 124 in intensive care beds.

Another 13 deaths were reported to the province, bringing the total to 666.

The regional breakdown of active cases was:

  • Edmonton zone: 9,464
  • Calgary zone: 7,304
  • Central zone: 1,480
  • North zone: 1,247
  • South zone: 601
  • Unknown: 67  

"This has been a tough year, and I know that many people have a great deal of anxiety, fear and frustration," Hinshaw said. "I know the new restrictions on all indoor and outdoor social gatherings have disappointed many Albertans as we enter the holiday season. In a year filled with so many sacrifices, it seems unfair to ask for more.

"But as social gatherings are a leading cause of transmission, this is our only option." 

Groups stigmatized

Hinshaw said she continues to hear reports of communities or ethnic groups being stigmatized, and of health-care workers or their families being singled out for being uniquely contagious.

"We are all equally at risk," she said. "COVID-19 does not care about a person's occupation, race, or religion. It does not respect postal codes or county lines. Every case and every outbreak is identified because people chose to care, not only about their health, but also the health of their friends and neighbours."

She urged Alberta to treat people who contract the illness with kindness and compassion.

"Stigmatizing groups or individuals does not make you safer. By singling out and discriminating against those with the virus we are discouraging others from getting tested and working with public health to stop the chain of transmission." 

Alberta's new COVID-19 restrictions

Under new restrictions put in place by the Alberta government on Tuesday masks are now mandatory in all parts of the province. All indoor and outdoor social gatherings, both public and private, are now prohibited.

Close contacts are limited to household members only. People who live alone can have up to two close contacts, but those two people must be the same for the duration of the restriction.

The government also rolled out other new restrictions that will take effect at midnight Saturday. The new closures include all:

  • Restaurants, pubs, bars, lounges and cafes. In-person service will not be permitted. Only takeout, curbside pickup and delivery services will be permitted.
  • Casinos, bingo halls, gaming entertainment centres, racing entertainment centres, horse tracks, raceways, bowling alleys, pool halls, legions and private clubs.
  • Recreational facilities such as fitness centres, recreation centres, pools, spas, gyms, studios, camps, indoor rinks and arenas.
  • Libraries, science centres, interpretive centres, museums, galleries, amusement parks and water parks.
  • Businesses offering personal and wellness services such as hair salons, nail salons, tattoo parlours and massage businesses.

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