The number of new cases of COVID-19 in Alberta was down for the fourth day in a row on Tuesday, with 57 new cases added to the total.
The province also reported two more deaths from the illness, bringing the total to 106. The total number of cases now sits at 5,893.
The number of active cases dropped on Tuesday to 2,568, down from 2,790 the day before.
Many Albertans who follow the province’s daily are likely wondering if four consecutive days of lower numbers are evidence of a trend.
Here’s what the case numbers looked like over the past week.
- Wednesday, April 29, 315 new cases
- Thursday, April 30, 190 new cases
- Friday, May 1, 218 new cases
- Saturday, May 2, 97 new cases
- Sunday, May 3, 96 new cases
- Monday, May 4, 70 new cases
- Tuesday, May 5, 57 new cases
Testing capacity to double
Alberta Health Services announced Tuesday it will spend $4.5 million on new equipment and technology to more than double the province’s capacity to test for the coronavirus. The investment, funded in part with a $1.7-million contribution from Calgary Health Trust, will increase the maximum number of daily tests to 16,000 from the current 7,000.
“Testing is a critical element of our province’s response to COVID-19 and it’s essential to our province’s relaunch strategy,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said at a news conference.
“Our decisions about reopening businesses and resuming activities require us to have the most accurate and detailed information possible. Testing gives us data that will inform our decisions as a province, so that as restrictions are lifted at each of the three stages of our relaunch strategy we can quickly evaluate the impact and adjust as needed.”
Along with more testing, the province aims to shorten the time it takes to trace contacts of people who test positive for the virus.
Sandro said he signed a ministerial order on Tuesday expanding the number of health-care practitioners who can help with contact tracing.
Currently, only community health nurses or executive officers are permitted to do the work of tracing contacts of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and assessing whether or not they should be tested.
The need has exceeded the ability of Alberta Health Services to recruit contact tracers, Shandro said.
The work can now be performed by chiropractors, paramedics, respiratory therapists, physiotherapists, psychiatric nurses, licensed practical nurses, pharmacists and dental hygienists.
They will get training before they take on the role and will be supervised, Shandro said.
Coughing on police
Shandro said he also signed a ministerial order on Monday allowing disclosure of COVID-19 test results to police, in cases where officers have had a person deliberately put them at risk by coughing or spitting on them and claiming they have the disease.
“Unfortunately, this is something that we’re hearing first responders in our province are encountering in the course of their duties,” Shandro said.
“We take confidentiality seriously but we will not tolerate our front-line workers being put at risk in this way as they work to keep the rest of us in this province safe.”
Monitor your mental health
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw has cautioned the public to remain vigilant about following public health orders and physical distancing guidelines, even as some aspects of society begin to reopen.
Hinshaw talked about mental health issues at her news conference on Tuesday.
In parts of the world hit by COVID-19 before Alberta, surveys have shown about half of respondents reported moderate to severe anxiety. Up to 20 per cent reported depression, she said.
Anxiety, depression and other mental-health disorders are likely to become more widespread in Alberta, Hinshaw said.
“While it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic may have a significantly larger and potentially longer-lasting negative psycho-social impact than the medical impact on Albertans, and while additional supports are in place, and more are coming to support those affected, mental health is still an issue that many find difficult to talk about,” she said.
“This can make it challenging to find support.”
‘Stress can take a toll’
She said people who are struggling can find it difficult to reach out for help. “I challenge all of us today to try to connect proactively with our loved ones and ask how they are feeling instead of waiting for them to reach out,” she said.
“We must talk openly and honestly about these issues and how they affect us. I am lucky to have a supportive family to lean on during what has been a challenging time for me both personally and professionally. Long hours and increased stress can take a toll.”
She said the mental health help line and addiction help line run by Alberta Health Services has increased capacity to take calls.
The number is 1-877-303-2642.
Over the past two months, Alberta has reported 106 deaths from COVID-19 and a total of 5,836 cases.
Of that total, 2,568 are considered active cases while 3,219 people have recovered from the illness.
The breakdown of cases as of Tuesday was:
- Calgary zone: 3,957
- South zone: 1,094
- Edmonton zone: 502
- North zone: 221
- Central zone: 89
- Unknown: 30
Three meat-packing plants in Alberta have been plagued by outbreaks. As of Tuesday, 949 workers at the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River have tested positive for COVID-19, which included 810 people who have recovered.
At the JBS plant in Brooks there were 487 cases, while the Harmony plant in Balzac had 36 cases, one-third of them who had no symptoms.