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Alberta to address E. coli outbreak with one-time payments of $2,000 per child

Premiere Danielle Smith announced on September 15, that the families of children affected by Alberta’s largest ever E. coli outbreak would be receiving one-time support payments.

The Alberta Government has promised to pay $2,000 for each child that was affected by the outbreak, and was attending one of the child care facilities closed during the outbreak.

“Our goal is to get the money to the parents as quickly as we can. We will be sending information on how to apply for assistance shortly,” said Smith.

“While Alberta’s government is providing this financial support, we expect that these childcare facilities recognize the hardship that has been caused and reimburse families the fees for the days that children have been spent out of care.”

She said that the province would continue to work with the families to find child care spaces in other facilities for families that want new placements.

Smith said the payments would follow the model of those given to other Albertans who have experienced provincial disasters, such as the recent wildfires during this year.

“In this circumstance, it’s really quite extraordinary that you’ve got a number of families who are still not able to have their children return. It’s disrupting the family of income.”

“We wanted to make sure that if there were additional financial pressures, that we could give a compassionate payment to assist them with that.”

She said, however, that the it was the responsibility of daycare operators to deliver services, and if they are not delivering service, than refunds are issued.

“This is unprecedented. I can’t think of another circumstance where we have seen this many cases stemming from a single incident like this. And when extraordinary emergencies occur, we have the latitude to make these kinds of decisions.”

Additional daycare temporarily closed in possible link to investigation

Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Mark Joffe, said that that the investigation into the outbreak has led to the temporary closure of part of an additional daycare.

The closure followed a positive identification of a child infected with E. coli that did not attend one of the original 11 daycares connected to the outbreak.

"I became aware of this positive test result just last night, however symptoms had begun in this child over the long weekend in September," said Dr. Joffe.

"Our staff are investigating a possible link to this outbreak, but there's no confirmation that it is directly linked at this point. Now out of an abundance of caution, the affected area of the daycare that this child attends is being temporarily closed."

He said that AHS routinely sees a small number of E. coli infections per week in patients.

"It is sadly routine for us to see small numbers of E coli cases each week, even in children. And it also highlights just how complex the investigation into this outbreak can be."

Investigation continues into shared kitchen as cases continue to rise

As of September 15, there had been 337 lab confirmed E. coli cases (up from 329 the day before), and 26 secondary infections (up from 22).

The number of patients in hospital has been declining, down to 12 from 13 the day before. All of the current patients in hospital are children.

Dr. Joffe said to date that investigators have been able to collect 45 samples of food from the affected daycares and the shared kitchen, which continues to be believed to be the source of the outbreak.

"We have received 19 results back from the lab. None have tested positive for E. Coli. Additional results for the samples that are remaining are expected within the next few days."

"The detailed analysis of the epidemiologic data is also providing us with further clues. We all want answers, and through a methodical, coordinated and systematic approach, we hope that we'll be able to provide them as soon as possible."

Smith said that it had been out an abundance of caution, learnt from legal proceedings during the Covid-19 pandemic for her delay in addressing the public about the outbreak and the ongoing investigation.

"We know because of what we've gone through with the previous health emergency that politicians cannot be directing these investigations, politicians cannot be interfering in health orders. If politicians interfere in health orders, that can be rendered illegal."

"We have to make sure that we're deferring to the medical officer of health and allowing him the latitude to inspect and make the decisions he needs to on closures and in guiding the process for when reopening can occur."

Smith said that Minister for Children and Family Services, Searle Turton, would be initiating investigations into other shared kitchens used by child care facilities across the province.

"He's just beginning the review. So we'll have more information as he goes along," she said.

Legislative changes possible pending outcome of investigation says province

Dr. Joffe addressed the potential reopening of the shared kitchen that has been at the heart of the investigation into the E. coli outbreak.

That kitchen had received numerous inspections, and had identified critical and non-critical food health and safety issues prior to the September 5 inspection that closed the kitchen.

"The central kitchen that provided food to these 11 daycares remains indefinitely closed. I acknowledge that there's some concern that this kitchen was able to continue to operate despite public health inspectors identifying a number of violations both critical and non-critical at recent inspections. I understand that concern."

"But I can assure you that there were no delays or gaps in inspecting this facility... in the case of this facility, it was inspected five times in 2023, directly related to the fact that violations had previously been identified. There were concerns about this facility and our public health inspectors more than doubled their visits."

He said that the kitchen was able to address those issues each time after inspections.

"There were no violations outstanding in this kitchen. However, three critical violations were identified during the inspection on September the fifth. These critical violations were different than the violations that had been identified and previously remediated in April."

Dr. Joffe said that limitations under the Public Health Act, AHS doesn't have the legal authority to permanently close food handing facilities that are able to correct critical issues identified during inspections.

"I certainly acknowledge that this is all cold comfort to the parents of children who fell ill. I am not trying to make excuses for this operator in any way, but the inspectors did their job under the Public Health Act."

Smith said that undoubtedly the outbreak has shaken the faith of parents in the system.

"My initial thought hearing Dr. Joffe, is that this is a deficiency in our public health act. It's a deficiency in the statute. He doesn't have the authority to close the kitchen, keep it closed. I certainly don't have the authority to close it and keep it closed."

"Someone should have that authority."

Smith said that a timeline on looking at legislative changes would follow the ending of the current crisis.

She said that if possible they would look at possibility brining forward legislation during the fall sitting of the Legislature, but if that wasn't possible, then during the spring sitting.