A ‘wake-up call’ for Alberta: Chief medical officer ‘concerned’ by rise in COVID-19 cases

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EDMONTON — Alberta’s chief medical officer says the province’s sharp spike in COVID-19 infections should be a “wake-up call” for people who don’t believe they’re at risk.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Alberta saw 114 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, down from 133 cases Wednesday. The province also saw two new deaths linked to the virus.

The new cases are part of a worrying trend in the western province, Hinshaw said.

Alberta was successful in flattening the curve early on in the pandemic, and was among the first jurisdictions to begin reopening businesses.

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But now, Alberta has seen the highest increase in new cases per capita nationwide between July 7 and 21.

On July 9, the province had 519 active cases. By Thursday, that number had increased to nearly 1,300.

British Columbia, in contrast, recorded 34 new cases Wednesday.

Particularly concerning for Hinshaw are the province’s hospitalization numbers. She said Alberta is now approaching the previous record for hospitalizations, set on April 30 when there were 113 people in hospital. There are currently 106 people hospitalized for COVID-19 complications.

“This needs to be a wake-up call,” Hinshaw said. “I am very concerned by these numbers.”

Hinshaw noted the number of Albertans in intensive-care units has nearly tripled in two weeks, from seven to 21.

She provided some stark numbers on how the virus is affecting different age groups. Of the 106 people who are hospitalized, 24 are under the age of 60.

In Alberta, Hinshaw said one out of 50 people between the age of 30 and 39 who are diagnosed needs to be admitted to hospital. That number increases to one out of every 20 people between 40 and 69. Between 70 and 79, one in 10 people who are diagnosed require hospitalization.

Finally, one in four cases in people who are 80 or over results in death.

“While it is true that younger people who catch COVID-19 have a lower risk of severe outcomes, lower risk does not mean zero risk,” Hinshaw said.

Hinshaw said she attributed Alberta’s continued rise in numbers to a collective fatigue after months of public health measures. But she urged people to remember that everyone is at risk of contracting the virus and passing it onto people who are at much greater risk.

She added that even among people who recover from COVID-19, there is emerging evidence of long-term damage, such as a higher risk of diabetes and permanent lung damage.

“We don’t yet know what the impact COVID-19 will have on your lifelong health,” Hinshaw said. “This is not something to take lightly.”

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She said the guidelines the government has put in place in regard to social distancing and other precautions are a manual for how to live with COVID-19 for the rest of 2020, and likely beyond. She said they are not an “optional suggestion that can be disregarded when inconvenient.”

On Tuesday, Calgary’s city council voted to make masks mandatory in all indoor public spaces, effective August 1. Edmonton moved to make masks mandatory on public transit and city-owned buildings, effective on the same day.

Earlier this week, Premier Jason Kenney told Albertans who are flouting social distancing and other precautions to “knock it off.”

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