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Alberta reports high COVID-19 rates in Calgary region, long-term care homes


EDMONTON — Alberta reported a higher percentage of positive COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths as the province's chief medical officer of health raised concerns about high infection rates in the Calgary region and long-term care homes.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Tuesday that there were 138 new cases with 128 of them from the Calgary Zone, noting that the province has increased testing in the region that includes the city and surrounding communities.

"The per cent of positivity is slightly higher today and we have been seeing an upward trending in Calgary," Hinshaw said.

"We are watching that very, very closely and I expect that we will have more data available by the end of the week to be able to understand what is happening in that area and why there is that higher positivity rate there than we are seeing in other parts of the province."

So far, the province has 1,870 cases. Of that total, 914 people have recovered from the illness.

She said there have been a total of 48 deaths in Alberta, with 30 of them in long-term care homes.

Of the new deaths announced Tuesday one was at the Shepherd's Care home in Edmonton. The other was at the McKenzie Towne continuing care facility in Calgary, where Hinshaw said there have been a total of 21 COVID-19 deaths.

So far, 214 COVID-19 cases in the province have been at long-term care facilities.

"I know many Albertans have concerns about their loved ones at these facilities," Hinshaw said.

"I hear their concerns and want to assure them that we are doing everything possible to help seniors and other vulnerable individuals living and working in these facilities to stay as safe as possible."

On Friday, the province brought in new measures that require all workers in continuing care facilities to wear masks at all times when providing direct patient care, or when working in patient care areas within two metres of others. Before then, masks had only been required when caring for patients with illness.

Hinshaw also said the province is requiring all long-term care staff to work at only one site. The requirement is to take effect later in the week, allowing operators time to adapt.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Tuesday that the province will provide a $3-million grant to Caregivers Alberta, an organization that offers support programs to those caring for the sick and elderly.

He and Hinshaw reiterated that the province has enough personal protective equipment to cope with the pandemic.

"This province has enough PPE, including the N95 masks, in our modelling and our estimates in what we are going to need for this pandemic," Shandro said.

"We do have processes in place for folks to let us know what their needs are so we can get that equipment distributed to them as quickly as possible."

Hinshaw said she understands that people want life to return to normal and be able take vacations and schedule important life events.

The province recently changed its testing priorities and is trying to ramp up the number of tests. The goal is to do as many as 20,000 a day by the end of May.

"Now that we've been able to significantly expand testing to provide more robust data, I hope to provide some more structured timelines soon to the emergency management co-ordination committee of cabinet for them to consider next steps going forward," Hinshaw said.

"Even still, it's important to remember that we'll all be dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for some while."

 This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2020

Daniela Germano, The Canadian Press