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Coronavirus daily briefing – March 23: New cases, new testing protocol, new biz help

Alberta has adjusted its coronavirus testing protocol and isolation measures as the number of cases and community transmission rises.

On Monday, Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Alberta added another 42 cases of COVID-19, bringing the provincial total to 301.

Twenty-four of the total number of cases are suspected to be from community transmission, Dr. Hinshaw said, with 18 cases now in hospital and seven people receiving treatment in ICU.

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Dr. Hinshaw said that travellers returning to Alberta after March 12 will no longer be tested and will just be asked to self-isolate for 14 days – or for 10 days AFTER any symptoms, even minor, appear.

Testing changes for coronavirus

Testing will be prioritized for people hospitalized with respiratory illness, residents in continuing care and people who returned from international travel between March 8 and 12.

“Anyone with symptoms who does not fit any of these categories should stay home and self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days from the start of their symptoms, or until symptoms resolve, whichever is longer,” read a provincial news release.

Hinshaw said that later this week they will also be ramping up testing for healthcare workers. Staff will be screened before starting their shifts. Any employee deemed unfit to work will be asked to return home and self isolate.

“This is being done to ensure that physicians and nurses and other health care providers we rely on can return to the frontline as soon as possible,” Hinshaw said.

The great outdoors and social distancing

Echoing the same message as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Jason Kenny and Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Dr. Hinshaw is once again reminding people to maintain their distance, even when outdoors.

“I do encourage people to go for walks and enjoy being outside and at the same time, it is extremely important to maintain that distance between others,” she said.

Hinshaw advised against planning trips to provincial parks or the mountains because of the potential sources for transmission. She said these places could attract larger crowds and bathroom facilities, restaurants and other facilities could be limited.

“I know that these measures we have put in place, continue to strain families, businesses and all Albertans and I appreciate how hard it is to be separated from friends and family during such stressful times,” she said.

Creative ways to maintain social bonds

Dr. Hinshaw said that maintaining connections with others is vital to keeping our well being and mental health intact.

Alberta Health is launching a text-based program – Text4Hope – that will provide Albertans with messages of hope and support during the coronavirus pandemic. Users are asked to text COVID-19 HOPE to 393939 to subscribe.

Users will then get daily text messages on healthy thinking or actions to help manage their mood.

“What the underlying root of that particular initiative is the knowledge that as human beings we have an innate need to be connected with each other socially. It’s built into our DNA,” said Dr. Hinshaw.

“I think we need to think about it as physical distancing with social connectedness, because we need that social connection.”

More provincial measures to help

In an earlier briefing, Premier Jason Kenney rolled out a few new measures to help keep money in the hands of Albertans and small and medium-sized businesses – at least for the interim.

The province will immediately rescind the increase to the education portion of citizens’ property taxes. Education taxes will be frozen at last year’s level. Premier Kenney said that would save Alberta households and businesses roughly $87 million.

Further, Premier Kenney said that for the next six the education portion of the property tax – for businesses – would be deferred. This will still need to be paid, but will be held off and spread out over future tax bills. The premier said this would keep $458 million in cash available to businesses to help keep their businesses afloat and still pay employees.

“Our priority is to keep our province strong while we get through these difficult times together. We’re doing everything we can to support Albertans and Alberta employers through this crisis,” said Premier Kenney.

There will also be help for businesses with deferral of their WCB premiums.

More information is available at alberta.ca/covid.