Alberta surpasses 1,000-case mark, provincial death toll from COVID-19 reaches 18

A month into the worst health crisis the world has faced in a century, Alberta reported that five more people have died from COVID-19 and 107 new cases of the illness have been detected.

Premier announces war-effort campaign calling on Alberta companies to help out during pandemic

Dr. Deena Hinshaw will provide another COVID-19 update on Thursday. (Art Raham/CBC)

A month into the worst health crisis the world has faced in a century, Alberta reported that five more people have died from COVID-19 and 107 new cases of the illness have been detected.

That brings the death toll in the province to 18 and the total number of cases to 1,075.

Four of those deaths were residents of the McKenzie Towne care centre in Calgary, bringing the total number of deaths at the facility to eight.

The fifth victim was a woman in her 20s from Edmonton. It is not clear if she had underlying health issues.

"The total number of infections and deaths will undoubtedly continue to rise in days and in the weeks to come, but so will the number of recovered cases, which today stands at 196 here in Alberta," Premier Jason Kenney said Friday at a news conference in Edmonton.

"If we can continue to keep the rates of infection and of death, in the context of active cases, at these relatively low levels, we will know that the countermeasures we have taken are working, and we'll get through the pandemic with proportionally much lower human costs than in other parts of the world."

Kenney said details of the province's "credible modelling" for how the pandemic will unfold in Alberta will be released next week.

"I can assure Albertans today, however, that the modelling indicates we have the health-care equipment, personnel and supplies needed to cope with anticipated hospitalizations, including in intensive-care units, and including the usage of ventilators."

Changes to testing priorities

At Friday's news conference, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, highlighted recent changes to Alberta testing priorities for the coronavirus.

Over the last few days, testing priority was given to people most at risk from the illness, such as seniors and those with underlying health conditions, and to health care workers, who are most at risk of contracting the virus.

Hinshaw said the recent spike in daily case numbers reflects the fact that the provincial laboratory has been working through a backlog of tests.

The daily counts reflect the date the lab confirmed the positive test, she said, not the date when the person became sick.

The province is watching closely what are called community-acquired cases, those passed person to person within the province.

Hishaw said looking at the data based on the day swabs were collected shows the numbers of new daily cases have remained relatively constant over the last 10 days.

'Disturbing reports'

Hinshaw said she has heard "disturbing reports" of discrimination against health-care workers, including threats of having them evicted from their homes. 

"Please continue to place your trust in health-care professionals. Doctors, nurses and all medical staff are doing a tremendous job in a very difficult time," she said.

 "I assure you these trained professionals are going above and beyond to stop the spread of the virus, both at their workplaces and in their homes.

"Instead of being afraid, we should continue to work together and be prepared to prevent the spread, stay informed and flatten the curve."

Stricter limits on hospital visits

An additional preventive measure announced by Hinshaw on Friday will put stricter limits on visitors to hospitals. With few exceptions, patients in hospital will no longer be able to have any visitors in person.

She said families and friends should plan to support loved ones in hospital with virtual visits instead.

Exceptions to the no-visiting rule will be made on a case-by-case basis, notably in regards to children, she said.

"As we see additional cases and we know that there is community transmission happening, especially in our large centres, it becomes ever more important that we are minimizing the chance that someone may unwittingly bring in a virus to a hospital," Hinshaw said.

Bits and pieces program

At the news conference, Kenney also announced a campaign calling on Alberta companies to contribute whatever help they can during the pandemic, echoing a program used in Canada during the Second World War.

The offers include passenger and commercial vehicles, hotel rooms and mobile trailers, food and water services, hospital gowns, face masks, ventilators and other personal protective equipment, the province said in a news release. 

The program is named after the "bits and pieces program" established by C.D. Howe, Canada's minister of munitions and supply during the Second World War. That program co-ordinated production and procurement efforts from across the Canadian economy to support the war effort.

Kenney said the province's new Bits and Pieces program has received more than 1,100 offers of help from large and small businesses so far.

"It is impressive, but not surprising, how many are stepping up to join the fight," the premier said. "The best measure of this compassionate, can-do spirit of Albertans is in the amazing number of offers and donations that the Emergency Management Agency has received through what we've called the Unsolicited Offers program. And today we are launching an expanded version of this."


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