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Anti-racism rallies led to few COVID infections in Alberta, total cases growing


EDMONTON — Alberta's top doctor says large anti-racism rallies last month appear to have led to few COVID-19 infections, but she's worried people might be starting to tune out public health messages as cases rise.

Eight COVID-19 cases have been identified among the several thousands of people who attended rallies in Calgary and Edmonton. Similar events were held around the world after the death of a Black man, whose neck a Minneapolis police officer compressed with his knee for nearly nine minutes. 

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer, said Tuesday that it's not surprising some transmission took place at the Alberta protests, given the size of the crowds.

"However, given that there were a large proportion of people who were wearing masks, I think that the outcome could have been much worse if some of those precautionary measures were not taken."

Alberta reported 86 new cases of the virus out of nearly 6,000 tests in its Tuesday update.

There are 701 active cases, including 55 in hospital and 13 in intensive care.

Two new deaths were reported Tuesday, bringing the province's total to 163.

One of the latest deaths was linked to an outbreak at Edmonton's Misericordia Community Hospital, where 17 staff members and 17 patients are currently sick. There have now been six deaths associated with the Misericordia outbreak.   

Hinshaw also said there have been 780 new cases identified in the last two weeks in Alberta, 57 per cent of which were among people under the age of 40. Of those, 30 per cent were not linked to any one source.

Hinshaw said she's worried people might be starting to tune out public health messages urging the use of masks, hand-washing and physical distancing.

"It is natural to feel a bit of COVID-19 fatigue," Hinshaw said. 

"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."

Hinshaw also said she was disturbed to hear reports about businesses turning away members of the Siksika Nation east of Calgary, where there are nine active COVID-19 cases.

The First Nation's leadership have acted quickly, transparently and proactively to control the spread of the virus among its 7,500 members, Hinshaw said.

"When the result of that prompt and transparent action is stigma against their members, it sends a message against transparency and risks discouraging people from being tested or co-operating with public health," she said.

"The members of the Siksika First Nation deserve better than that. All Albertans of every heritage deserve better than that."

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

— By Lauren Krugel in Calgary

The Canadian Press