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Alberta coronavirus daily briefing – April 29: New long term care rules, Cargill goes back to work

New rules are in place for Alberta’s continuing care centres to help stop the spread of coronavirus but preserve quality of life for residents.

In Wednesday’s coronavirus daily briefing, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, announced seven new deaths in Alberta, with six at Clifton Manor, a long-term care centre in southeast Calgary.  That brings Alberta’s total to 87 deaths.

“I want to emphasize that this sad news is not a reflection of the work that has gone into managing this outbreak at the site,” said Dr. Hinshaw.

“My local colleagues tell me that the site responded promptly created an isolation ward and worked hard to prevent the spread.”

Provincial numbers show an additional 315 cases, based on 5,205 tests, bringing the total COVID-19 case number to 5,165. To date, there have been 1,953 recovered cases.

Dr. Hinshaw also updated the COVID-19 outbreaks at the Cargill and JBS meat packing plants. There are now 821 cases confirmed among workers at Cargill and another 276 at JBS in Brooks.

In Alberta’s continuing care locations, there are 503 confirmed cases.

Dr. Hinshaw said that continuing care outbreaks are an ongoing concern for the province, the families, the operators and staff.

“At the same time, I have heard that the preventive measures that have been put in place to prevent outbreaks have had negative impacts on the quality of life for many residents,” she said.

New measures for these facilities attempt to balance outbreak control with improvements to quality of life, said Dr. Hinshaw.

First, any resident with minor symptoms, including hoarse voice or muscle aches, must be tested immediate and await results in isolation. Further, any residents in the same unit as a confirmed COVID-19 case will also be tested. They’ll be tested even if they’re asymptomatic, Dr. Hinshaw said.

Anyone involved in direct resident care must wear eye protection, along with regular protective equipment.

The second order allows for outdoor visits for residents, not in isolation, with a designated visitor and one other person. When outside, physical distancing must be observed and masks must be used.

“These are important to the mental health of residents and families,” said Dr. Hinshaw.

Dr. Hinshaw also clarified end of life situations. She said end of life included the two weeks prior to death. In these cases two people will be allowed in at a time, as long as physical distancing can be done.

There was also an order allowing group therapy to continue at residential addictions treatment centres.

Cargill returns to work

According to a statement posted by Cargill, the High River meat-packing plant will reopen May 4, with support from Alberta Health Services.

When asked if Cargill was safe to reopen, Dr. Hinshaw said that AHS has been a part of site inspections, and along with the Ministry of Labour,

“This plant, in particular, has made sure that all measures to prevent spread of infection are being put in place,” said Dr. Hinshaw.

This includes enhanced measures in areas like the locker rooms, and support when it comes to carpooling to get to work, and certain home arrangements. The province has acknowledged that are areas of concern in this outbreak.

“Alberta Health Services has been working very, very hard to phone every single worker at the Cargill plant to make sure that they have the information that they need about the practices that will keep them safe and prevent exposure in any setting that they’re in,” said Dr. Hinshaw, adding that they’ve been working with employees around other forms of transportation.

She said employees need to know that they have support if they are not feeling well. They need to know they’re supported financially, if they’re not feeling well they should get tested again.

Dr. Hinshaw said the employer needs to also ensure that workplace measures continue to remain in place.