Five more individuals are sick with the novel coronavirus in Alberta, Alberta Health said Wednesday.
One of the confirmed cases involves a man in his 30s in the Edmonton Zone whose symptoms started on March 6.
He had a procedure, not related to the coronavirus, at the Misericordia Hospital in northwest Edmonton on March 6 to 7. He tested positive on March 9, and is now self-isolating.
“Any staff or patients who were potentially exposed at this location will be directly contacted by public health,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health.
Hinshaw said she did not yet have the final number of people who have been contacted by AHS in regard to the new Edmonton case.
“There is no risk to patients or staff at the hospital at this time. I want to be clear that there is no need for anyone else who may have attended the Misericordia or other hospital sites to be concerned or take additional action.”
The other four cases involve a man in his 20s and two women in their 30s from the Calgary zone. A female in her 30s from Central zone has also tested positive for COVID-19.
These new cases involve people who recently returned from travel in a variety of places, including Iran, Egypt, Spain, Washington State and Mexico, though Hinshaw said it’s too early to know exactly where they contracted the virus.
There are now 19 confirmed cases in Alberta, all travel-related. One patient is recovering in hospital, while the others are in isolation at home.
This latest announcement comes on the same day the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, in consideration of the virus’ spread worldwide.
Hinshaw said this was an “important designation, and one that reflects the seriousness of this virus.”
“COVID-19 is not like other threats we have seen in the past decades. It is more severe than seasonal influenza, and more contagious than viruses like SARS,” she said.
“It can be contained, as has been shown in other countries like Singapore, but it will take an effort of all of us to do so. This means we must continue preparing for the potential that our risk in Alberta will change.”
All Canadians travelling to Alberta from Italy are being asked to self-isolate until 14 days have passed since their last visit.
All returning travellers from Italy, the Hubei province in China and Iran through Canadian airports, including Edmonton and Calgary, will receive screenings starting this Friday, March 13.
Alberta Health is also recommending for anyone over the age of 65, and those with chronic health conditions, to not travel outside of Canada as the global risk is increasing, Hinshaw said.
Any travellers returning to Alberta from outside of Canada should consider limiting their attendance at large public gatherings and closely monitor themselves for symptoms.
‘Preparing for that test’
The provincial lab has expanded its capacity for testing “quite rapidly,” Hinshaw said.
On Tuesday alone, close to 1,000 tests of COVID-19 were done. A more complete aggregate number will be released on Friday.
“COVID-19 is going to test our health system and emergency preparedness, but our system is preparing for that test," she said.
"In the coming days and weeks, we will continue to implement aggressive public health measures to detect and isolate new cases.”
While the province initially relied on testing individuals at home, the increased volume has been taken on by various assessment centres in the province.
“Home testing is limited on availability in those major urban centres. The majority of tests are run through assessment centres just because that’s the most efficient way to move the volume of people,” she said, noting exceptions will be made on a case-to-case basis.
People who are sent to these assessment centres are given masks immediately on their arrival, and attempts are made to distance people within the waiting areas to prevent any potential spread of infection in those settings.
Hinshaw said Alberta Health is working with family doctors in the province to make sure they have access to personal protective equipment in a time when it may be difficult to order these supplies from their regular providers.
“Alberta Health Services zones will be working with primary care networks to move this forward with priority given to family doctors who are doing testing for COVID-19 in their offices.”
The risk of exposure in the province remains low.
As of March 11, there were 98 confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Canada.