EDMONTON — Recent religious activities are responsible for two COVID-19 outbreaks, Alberta's top doctor says, including one in the province's capital where the number of people testing positive has been rising steadily.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of heath, said Tuesday that 15 cases are tied to services at the Bible Pentecostal Church in north Edmonton between July 26 and Aug. 12.
She advised anyone who has been at the church during that time, or anyone close to those who have, to get tested.
"It is a stark reminder that coming together in large gatherings risks sharing more than fellowship, it risks sharing the COVID-19 virus," Hinshaw said.
"It is critical to not stigmatize those who test positive or those who have come in close contact, as we do not want to discourage people from being tested."
Another 15 cases in Alberta were from a separate religious gathering in the hamlet of Deadwood in the northwestern part of the province, Hinshaw said.
The event, called It Is Time Canada, took place between July 30 and Aug. 2.
Health officials in northern British Columbia issued an alert Monday linking 17 cases of their own to the same event. Twelve cases were due to attendance and five were believed to be from secondary exposures. Another 24 people identified as "close contacts" are in self-isolation.
Most of the cases are in the Fort St. John, B.C., area.
Hinshaw said it is likely that more cases will be identified in both provinces.
"An estimated 200 to 300 people attended over the course of the three-day gather," she said. "We are working with B.C. Health to ensure that contract tracing is completed for all those who had attended."
The organizer, evangelist Chris Lindberg, said in a video posted on social media that he was one of those diagnosed with COVID-19.
Alberta Health reported Tuesday that the Edmonton zone has the highest number of active cases in the province with 636, well over double than any other area.
The city of Edmonton itself had 572 active cases, and the entire city is under a COVID-19 watch. A watch is triggered when an area of the province has more than 50 active cases per 100,000 population.
Indoor social gatherings seem to be where a lot of the Edmonton transmission is happening, Hinshaw added.
"I think we had a provincewide wake-up call a few weeks ago, when we were seeing high daily totals across the province. But this may be an Edmonton-specific wake-up call," Hinshaw said.
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said he was disappointed about the high numbers and was trying to get more details to help protect those at risk.
In total, there are 1,169 active cases in Alberta, with 89 new ones reported Tuesday. There was one new death, bringing that total to 225 since the pandemic began in March.
The province also announced Tuesday that Shoppers Drug Mart and its parent company, Loblaw, will offer testing in Alberta communities.
All 234 Alberta-based Superstore, Wholesale Club, Extra Foods, No Frills, Independent and Loblaws City Market stores will offer testing to asymptomatic people over the next two weeks.
Hinshaw said it increases testing capacity by about 3,000 to 4,000 tests per day.
"That would serve half or more of Alberta's teachers and school staff," she said. "We will need this added capacity, plus that of all community pharmacists who are already testing for COVID-19, if we are to test these 90,000 teachers and school staff in just a few weeks."
In central Alberta, a pork-processing plant sent more than a dozen employees home after a worker tested positive for the virus last week.
The employee at the Olymel facility in Red Deer, Alta., was sent home and told to get tested after showing symptoms of COVID-19 on Aug. 11, a company spokesman said.
Richard Vigneault said the positive test result came in two days later and 13 other employees who were at risk of exposure were sent home for testing.
Vigneault said the company expects test results in the coming days and the plant will remain open in the meantime.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2020
The Canadian Press