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Alberta coronavirus daily briefing – April 20: Cargill death, front line masks and boost for continuing care

One of four coronavirus deaths in Alberta in the last 24 hours was an employee at the Cargill plant south of Calgary, where cases connected to that outbreak have reached 484.

In Monday’s provincial coronavirus briefing, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health announced 105 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, bringing Alberta’s total to 2,908.  So far, 1,230 people have recovered, she said.

More than 105,000 tests have been completed to date, with Dr. Hinshaw saying 3,718 were complete in the last day.

Four people have died in the past 24 hours. Two residents at Alberta long term care centres and one person in the Edmonton Zone and the Cargill worker.

Cargill related cases spike; community transmission

Dr. Hinshaw said measures have been put in place to control the outbreak at the Cargill meat packing plant in High River.

Of the 484 cases, 360 are worker in the plant, with the community spread has reached another 124 people to date, she said.

“There is a dedicated team working on reducing spread with particular attention on households where there may not be the resources or the space for self-isolation to happen,” Dr. Hinshaw said.

When asked how this outbreak would affect the province’s view on shutting down other food plants, she said they would be looking at the specific factors of these and adding them to their data on further similar outbreaks.

Dr. Hinshaw said when the cases were first identified, they put in place outbreak measures to control the spread. After ongoing contact work, they identified other factors that that contributed to the spread.

“There are things like carpooling that’s been identified as a risk. So not just looking at the plant itself but looking at how do people get back and forth to work, thinking about households and there’s households where people simply don’t have the space to self-isolate,” she said.

She said employers need to be examining situations where workers are being asked to work close together. Proper protective gear needs to be used and workers need to be checked for symptoms.

Cargill has temporarily suspended operations at that location.

AHS has heard the concerns about the PPE masks

Jitendra Prasad, chief program officer for procurement for Alberta Health Services addressed concerns over reports that sub-standard masks were being delivered to front line workers.

Prasad said that the province currently has between 30 and 60 days of personal protective equipment on hand at any given time.

He said they have heard concerns about the procedural masks. The masks have been brought in from two different manufacturers and feedback about fit came back.

“We’ve heard from our frontline teams that are concerned about the fit and in particular that these nose pieces for one of the brands is uncomfortable and doesn’t fit like it should,” he said.

“We understand that our frontline staff like familiarity and they like the products that they have been used to using within our system.”

Prasad said the masks front line workers are familiar with has been around for 20-plus years and there’s a comfort level with it.

He said they are very careful to make sure the masks meet all necessary standards. They are also working with the manufacturers to address the issues, Prasad said.

Concerns over the plastic smell coming from the masks was also addressed at the briefing. Prasad said the masks are sealed in plastic when they come hot off the assembly lines, so the plastic smell remains sealed in the bags. They will unseal these masks and air them out.

They will also be providing front line workers with other options should they have skin irritations from the other mask types.

More funding for front line continuing care workers

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said due to the disproportionate hit taken by the province’s long-term care units, more funding would be available for front line staff.

So far, 330 COVID-19 cases and 34 deaths have been reported in 29 Alberta continuing care locations.

Last week, the province announced that staff would be required to work only at one location.

On Monday, Minister Shandro said that they would be increasing health care aide staffing levels at the long term care centres across Alberta.

Health care aides will also receive $2/hour pay increases and 1,000 paid practicum student positions will be added, to fast track certifications.

“We are confident that these measures will make a difference not only to health-care aides, but to the residents of these facilities who deserve quality and compassionate care,” said Minister Shandro.

In a news release Monday afternoon, the Opposition Alberta NDP said they welcome the news, noting they called for these measures on April 7.

“I am relieved to see the government belatedly providing surge funding for continuing care facilities to hire staff and modest hazard pay for workers,” said NDP Seniors and Housing critic, Lori Sigurdson.

“But I am frustrated that it took two weeks of dithering from Jason Kenney and the UCP Government to introduce these common-sense measures.”