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Alberta coronavirus daily briefing – April 17: Testing at long term care, Cargill and Foothills faux pas

All residents and staff at Alberta long term care centres, where there’s been an outbreak, will now be tested to prevent further coronavirus spread, the province said Friday.

The testing measures were announced as they continue to ramp up protocols to prevent COVID-19 infections in vulnerable senior populations. Thirty-two residents have died in Alberta long term care and there are 270 COVID-19 cases.

In Friday’s briefing, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced 239 new coronavirus cases – split into 134 lab confirmed cases and 105 probable cases. This is due to the data malfunction as a result of a small fire in the health ministry’s data centre.

There are now 2,397 recorded coronavirus cases in Alberta. No new deaths have been reported.

Over the past 24 hours, 3,831 tests were performed, bringing Alberta’s total to 92,805 tests. More than 89,000 Albertans have been tested.

“While this number is a high daily total, I want to remind people that we did expand our testing access this week,” said Hinshaw.  

“We expected to see more new cases, as we test more Albertans.”

Cargill public health response beefed up

Dr. Hinshaw said one reason for a big surge in cases is 358 linked to the Cargill meatpacking plant in High River.

She said many of the cases are involving multiple connected households. Many of these households are in surrounding communities, Dr. Hinshaw said.

“Alberta Health Services (AHS) has put together a dedicated outbreak response team to track this High River outbreak, and to prevent further infections at any locations where transmission is occurring,” she said.

In Thursday’s briefing, Dr. Hinshaw said that Cargill is cooperating with AHS to make sure all public health measures are in place.

“In addition to complying with all public health measures, Cargill has increased physical distancing between employees and slowed down the lines while ensuring meat processing can continue safely,” said Dr. Hinshaw.

In previous briefings, Dr. Hinshaw has said that a dedicated assessment centre had been set up for Cargill employees, and that anyone with close contacts to those infected have been asked to isolate for 14 days.

Testing all long-term care residents and patients

Premier Jason Kenney first announced that all in continuing care locations across Alberta, all residents and staff would be tested – symptoms or not.

“This will help to contain this spread among residents and protect compassionate and courageous workers who are caring for them in those seniors facilities,” he said.

Dr. Hinshaw said she recognizes that there’s fear out there among Albertans that their loved ones will be infected at one of the province’s long-term care centres.

“It is not acceptable that elderly Albertans are being put at risk in a place where their health is supposed to be protected,” she said.

“We have put strong measures in place to limit the spread of infection at these facilities. We must do more.”

Dr. Hinshaw said the new testing regimen doesn’t replace the current strict protocols now in place at continuing care centres.

Further, a negative test does not mean any change to workers being isolated for 14 days if they’re in contact with a person that’s infected.

Foothills hospital maternity ward

Dr. Hinshaw opened Friday’s briefing by acknowledging the disappointment that was shared with her over the lack of information about coronavirus cases in the Foothills Medical Centre maternity ward.

In Thursday’s briefing, Dr. Hinshaw said this information wasn’t released because it didn’t pose a public risk.

“I have heard clearly that Albertans rely on the information I share about unusual situations, regardless of whether or not these situations pose a public risk,” she said.

Now, the province is working to include information on all COVID-19 confirmed outbreaks. Dr. Hinshaw said she wanted to be transparent with Albertans while still protecting people’s personal information.

Further, the outbreak site should be informed of the action before the information is posted online.

“We want to be sure that Albertans with loved ones in these facilities are letting getting timely information from the facility itself, and will not hear about an outbreak from our website,” Dr. Hinshaw said.

She expected an update on this next week.