Alberta's top doctor worried Albertans may have COVID-19 fatigue
'It can seem like old news, and many are tired of hearing this information,' Dr. Deena Hinshaw says
More than four months into a pandemic that has killed 163 people in Alberta and sickened thousands, the province's top public health official says she's worried some people may no longer be listening to her warnings.
"This pandemic has been a long haul, and I worry that Albertans may be starting to tune the messages out," Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday during her latest news conference.
Much of the public advice, including regular hand washing and physical distancing, has been repeated for months, she said.
"It can seem like old news, and many are tired of hearing this information. This is a challenging time for any public health response. The virus has now been in Alberta for four months, and while we saw cases decline from the peak seen in April, our daily cases have begun to rise over the past few days."
Hinshaw said she is also concerned about a recent trend that is seeing more younger people being infected with the virus.
Over the past two weeks, she said, 780 new cases have been identified in the province, with 57 per cent them among people under the age of 40. Of those cases, 30 per cent have not yet been linked to any known source.
"This is a reminder that COVID-19 can spread quickly and cases can rise rapidly, if we don't all do our part," she said.
Two more deaths
Alberta reported two more COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, one linked to an ongoing outbreak at Edmonton's Misericordia Community Hospital.
The province reported another 86 cases of the illness and has seen the daily number of new active cases inch up over the past several days.
There are now four regions listed under the "watch" status.
On Tuesday, 55 people were in hospital, including 13 in intensive care.
The regional breakdown of active cases was:
- Calgary zone: 295
- Edmonton zone: 198
- South zone: 104
- North zone: 50
- Central zone: 48
- Unknown: 6
A total of 8,049 people in Alberta have now recovered from COVID-19, while 163 have died.
While she said she is worried about COVID-19 fatigue among the public, Hinshaw repeated some now familiar advice on Tuesday, again making the case that Albertans must remain vigilant.
"We need to avoid overcrowding in public spaces and social gatherings," she said. "That's how we keep our families and communities safe, by following the guidance, not by discriminating against fellow Albertans who also are doing their best to follow public health measures.
"It is natural to feel a bit of COVID-19 fatigue. If anyone is tired of following the public health guidance, or feels that they are not at risk, please remember that your actions are protecting more than yourself.
"Anyone can become ill from this virus, but older Albertans and those with heart disease, diabetes or other underlying medical conditions are at the highest risk of experiencing severe health outcomes.
"Every time we step out the door we should all ask ourselves, 'Who am I protecting today?' We all need to continue respecting each other and working together to keep everyone safe and healthy."
Call for mandatory masks
On Tuesday, the United Nurses of Alberta and the Alberta Federation of Labour called on the province to make mask wearing mandatory at all indoor public places.
"The evidence is now clear," AFL president Gil McGowan said in a statement. "Wearing a face mask in workplaces and enclosed public spaces helps protect the people around you, including other workers. It's a public health issue and a workplace health and safety issue. The provincial government should act now."
UNA president Heather Smith echoed that call, urging the government and Hinshaw to take more drastic action.
"As medical professionals, nurses understand the gravity of this pandemic and the serious health consequences COVID-19 poses," Smith said in a statement. "We also understand the economic necessity of getting Alberta back to work and preventing the need for another lockdown.
"The best way to do this is through mandatory masking in workplaces and enclosed public spaces."
Asked about the calls for action, Hinshaw said she encourages everyone to cover their faces when they visit indoor public places.
"I am strongly recommending that all of us wear masks anytime we are out and can't maintain a two-metre distance from others, especially in indoor spaces.
"Wearing a mask is a common sense precaution that should be part of everyone's new normal."
20 million more masks
On Monday, the province announced it will hand out another 20 million free masks to help people cover their faces in an ongoing effort to keep themselves and others safe.
The City of Edmonton announced on Tuesday it will begin distributing another 750,000 free masks as part of the second phase of the provincial government's distribution plan.
Free masks will be available at four ETS transit centres and three LRT stations on weekdays between 7 a.m.and 7 p.m. until they're all gone, the city said in a news release.
Masks will be distributed at the following transit locations:
- West Edmonton Mall Transit Centre
- Mill Woods Transit Centre
- Northgate Transit Centre
- Century Park Transit Centre
- Churchill LRT Station
- Clareview LRT Station
- Kingsway LRT Station
"We strongly recommend wearing a mask on transit," Eddie Robar, branch manager of ETS, said in the news release. "As Edmonton continues to reopen, wearing a mask on transit has become even more important to help keep our community safe. It's simply the right thing to do, and we need everyone's help."
On Monday, Quebec became the first province to make masks mandatory.
Premier François Legault said masks or face coverings will be mandatory in all indoor public spaces across Quebec starting on July 18. Business owners will be responsible for applying the new regulations and could face fines of between $400 and $6,000 for failure to do so.