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Case numbers show Alberta's school plan worked to slow COVID-19 spread, top doctor says

Activities outside school have played a larger role in exposing children to the coronavirus and spreading the illness, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Wednesday.

'This tells us once again that reducing social interactions is critical'

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw urged Albertans on Wednesday to limit their social gatherings over the holidays. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Alberta's steps to slow the spread of COVID-19 in schools are working, and case numbers suggest students are more often getting sick outside their classrooms, says the province's top public health doctor.

Case numbers in schools slowly increased throughout the fall then began to rise more steeply in November, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday at a news conference.

In late November, the province brought in new health measures that paused team sports and group performances and limited social gatherings. Junior and senior high students shifted to learning at home while elementary-age students remained at school in person.

Hinshaw said that in all three age groups, new case numbers roughly tripled from the beginning of November to the end of the month, then plateaued and have fallen over the past few weeks.

"This similar trend in all three age groups supports the other evidence we have seen suggesting that the school model in place is protective against in-school transmission," she said. "Instead, it seems that it is mainly all the other in-person activities that children undertake that are exposing them to the virus and helping to spread COVID-19.

"This tells us once again that reducing social interactions is critical to protecting each other and bending the curve. Please limit your social gatherings whenever possible in the next few days and stick to your household."

Alberta reported 19 more deaths on Wednesday and 1,301 new cases of COVID-19.

The deaths were spread out over several days, though 10 of them happened during a two-day period. 

The new cases were reported during a 24-hour period that ended at midnight on Tuesday.

Active cases dropped again to 17,821, a total that has declined since numbers peaked on Dec. 13.

That day, Alberta reported 1,887 new cases had been identified over the previous 24 hours. At the time, there were 21,123 active cases across the province.

But the most critical numbers continue to rise.

On Dec. 13, there were 716 people being treated in hospitals for COVID-19, including 136 in intensive care.

As of Wednesday, 821 people are in hospital, including 146 in intensive care.

Federal approval of the Moderna vaccine on Wednesday represents good news, Hinshaw said.

"The incoming arrival of a second vaccine is good, but it also does not change the seriousness of our current situation," she said.

"We are now well into the holiday season for many, and I want to stress yet again how important it is that we limit our in-person interactions whenever possible.

"Thanksgiving get-togethers helped fuel a spike in cases that we are still fighting to reduce today. We cannot afford for that to happen now when our baseline of new daily cases is four to five times higher now than it was then."

The most recent deaths reported by the province were:

  • Nov. 23. A woman in her 80s linked to the outbreak at Mayerthorpe Extendicare in North zone. 

  • Dec. 12. A woman in her 100s linked to the outbreak at Rivercrest Care Centre in Edmonton zone.

  • Dec. 12. A woman in her 80s linked to the outbreak at Rivercrest Care Centre in Edmonton zone. 

  • Dec. 16. A man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at Rivercrest Care Centre in Edmonton zone. 

  • Dec. 17. A man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Capital Care Strathcona in Edmonton zone. 

  • Dec. 17. A man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at Capital Care Strathcona in Edmonton zone. 

  • Dec. 18. A man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at Rivercrest Care Centre in Edmonton zone. 

  • Dec. 19. A woman in her 90s linked to the outbreak at Capital Care Strathcona in Edmonton zone.

  • Dec. 19. A man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Agecare Walden Heights in Calgary. 

  • Dec. 21. A woman in her 100s linked to the outbreak at Terra Losa Lifestyle Options in Edmonton.

  • Dec. 21. A man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Devonshire Village in Edmonton.

  • Dec. 21. A man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at Youville Home in Edmonton zone.

  • Dec. 21. A man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at Carewest Dr. Vernon Fanning Centre in Calgary.

  • Dec. 21. A man in his 60s linked to the outbreak at Dulcina Hospice in Calgary.

  • Dec. 21. A woman in her 70s linked to the outbreak at Dulcina Hospice in Calgary.

  • Dec. 21. A man in his 70s linked to the outbreak at Glamorgan Care Centre in Calgary. 

  • Dec. 22. A woman in her 100s linked to the outbreak at Agecare Skypointe in Calgary.

  • Dec. 22. A man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.

  • Dec. 22. A woman in her 60s linked to the outbreak at Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.

The province conducted more than 19,000 tests over the past 24 hours, for a positivity rate of about 6.8 per cent.

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