EDMONTON — Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says the province is at a dangerous plateau, with almost 3,000 new COVID-19 cases in the last three days, 20 new deaths and overwhelmed contact chasers.
"We have entered an exponential growth period and that is, of course, deeply concerning," Dr. Deena Hinshaw told reporters Monday.
"If these new (health restriction) measures that were put in place last Friday are not enough, we will be absolutely be bringing forward recommendations for additional measures.
"We are in a critical time."
Hinshaw announced 860 new cases on top of more than 2,000 cases announced over the weekend.
Total deaths are at 427. There are 264 people hospitalized with COVID-19, with 57 in intensive care. And there are 10,031 active cases.
Alberta has been hit by soaring caseloads in recent weeks, prompting many doctors and infectious disease experts to publicly warn that the health system is bending under the pressure and a short, sharp economic lockdown is needed to reverse the trend.
There have been or continue to be outbreaks at acute-care hospitals throughout the province, including in Edmonton and Calgary.
The province is also struggling to keep track of where COVID-19 cases are coming from.
The province has 800 contact tracers and is working to hire at least 400 more, but Hinshaw says their workload is soaring given every new case means about 15 potential contacts. A thousand new cases a day means 15,000 more people to contact every 24 hours.
"It is impossible to make phone calls to each one," said Hinshaw, noting that Alberta Health Services launched an online portal last week where those with COVID-19 can identify close contacts in order to speed up notifications.
Of the 5,626 new cases reported Nov. 6-12, officials don’t know where 86 per cent of them originated.
Premier Jason Kenney has resisted calls to expand economic control measures, such as shutting down retailers and restaurants offering dine-in service, as was done in the spring. He says household parties and get-togethers are the main source of new infections, and that he has to balance the needs of health with community and economic well-being.
Last Friday, a two-week shutdown began of group fitness classes, team sport activities and group performance activities in Edmonton, Calgary and other large urban centres. Bars, restaurants, and pubs in communities with high caseloads must also stop serving liquor by 10 p.m. and close by 11 p.m.
Earlier Monday, in question period, Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley accused Health Minister Tyler Shandro of failing Albertans, and demanded he release updated COVID-19 projections.
"Alberta’s new case rate is growing more than twice as fast as British Columbia’s and three times as fast as Ontario’s, for heaven’s sake," Notley told the house.
"Does this minister not understand that his complete lack of action is walking us into an imminent health-care collapse?"
Not true, replied Shandro.
"We built up the most robust testing system in the country. Our lower death rate is a testament to the fact that we are taking this more seriously than other provinces," he said.
"Our death (rate) per 100,000 is 6.7. It’s three times less than Ontario’s. It’s 10 times less than Quebec’s."
The NDP announced seven proposals to help small businesses affected by the new restrictions, including increasing provincial grants and matching federal aid while giving businesses further relief on evictions and protection from having utilities shut off.
Finance Minister Travis Toews said the United Conservative government has already assisted businesses with relief funding and with workers’ compensation premiums, and is exploring further relief.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2020.