The doctor responsible for Alberta’s battle to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus had some sombre news and sobering statistics for 4.2 million residents on Friday.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said she heard from many people who were “profoundly disappointed or even angry” about her comments Thursday all-but ruling out any public events this summer.
“The message I am hearing is that Albertans have sacrificed so much already, how can I ask them to give up their summer when we don’t know for sure what the situation will be like in one or two months?” Hinshaw said at a news conference.
“I hear this loud and clear, and the question of how we came to the decision regarding summer events is a valid one. So today, I would like to provide more information on why I am convinced this measure is necessary.”
Hinshaw said the curve shown in the province’s modelling work, released earlier this month, may have left people with the impression that the virus will go away over the summer.
“That is not the case,” she said. “The virus that causes COVID-19 will be with us for many months to come. And the relatively low case numbers we are seeing in most of the province are the result of our collective efforts and sacrifices. COVID-19 is still with us, and it spreads rapidly through social interactions.”
She then gave an example of how fast the virus has already spread.
“We have had several instances in the province of social gatherings where one person passed the virus on to many others at a single event before the individual knew they had COVID,” she said.
She cited the Edmonton bonspiel held in March, where 40 of the 73 people who attended later tested positive for COVID-19.
In her update on Friday, Hinshaw reported that in the last 24 hours there have been five more deaths from COVID-19 and 297 new cases.
Three of the deaths were in long-term care facilities.
That brings the total number of deaths in the province to 72 and the total number of cases to 4,017.
Three of the new cases reported Friday were members of a First Nation in the Calgary area. Two cases were linked to the Mountain View Poultry plant near Okotoks.
Carriers don’t know they have virus
Hinshaw said public health officials are aware of social events where more than 80 per cent of attendees were affected.
“The common theme in all of these is that the source did not know they had COVID, or there was possibly an environmental source with high-touch surfaces,” she said. “The attendees were trying to be careful, with regular hand sanitization and trying to follow distancing rules. But the gatherings were social in nature.
“From these events, a single gathering resulted in between 13 and 40 additional cases, with subsequent spread to household contacts of those who attended.”
Some of those household contacts were health-care workers, she said.
Alberta Health is starting to map the ripple effects of spread that started by these gatherings, Hinshaw said. The gatherings happened early in the epidemic, she said, before officials fully understood the reality of transmission before the onset of symptoms.
‘Explosive, far-reaching and deadly’
Hinshaw made a point of saying she doesn’t blame the people involved for the spread.
“What I want to underline is that the kinds of social gatherings we are used to, even in the summer, can result in significant spread of the virus from just one person who may not even know they are infected. The results can be explosive, far-reaching and deadly.
Albertans have given up their freedom, their social lives and in many cases their jobs to fight COVID-19, Hinshaw noted.
“Unfortunately, this virus does not respect our feelings. I am keenly aware of the depth to which these measures are affecting everyone. I do not take them lightly. I ask you to do the same.”
Hinshaw also spoke about the importance of supporting the people who are sick and those who are caring for them.
She talked about the outbreak at the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River, south of Calgary, where 558 employees have tested positive for the virus.
“Not everyone who works at Cargill is a close contact of a confirmed case,” she said. “There is no reason to assume that everyone connected with that facility is infected.
“These individuals are not in mandated isolation unless they are a confirmed case or a close contact of a confirmed case, and should not be restricted from accessing businesses, such as grocery stores or banks, when necessary.
“The people who are affected by this outbreak are experiencing many difficulties, and they need support and compassion as we work to stop for further spread.”
She said the same holds true for those working at continuing care centres experiencing outbreaks, including health-care workers.
The breakdown of cases by region was:
- Calgary zone: 2,833
- Edmonton zone: 466
- South zone: 444
- North zone: 165
- Central zone: 82
- Unknown: 27
On Friday, 76 people were in hospital with the illness, 18 of them in intensive care units.
By Friday, a total of 1,397 people have recovered from the illness, while laboratories in the province had performed 122,447 tests.
Hinshaw is not scheduled to hold news conferences on Saturday or Sunday.
Updates will be provided through daily online statistics and situational reports.