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Alberta has 70 hospitalizations, as of April 22

Graph from the Government of Alberta website shows numbers of current COVID-19 patients in hospitals– ICU, and non-ICU

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

COVID-19 still a serious threat despite low hospitalizations, says Premier

The good news for Albertans is that while the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has risen recently, it is still well below the projected modelling released two weeks ago by Alberta Health Services.

The bad news is that, while it may be tempting to think the problem has gone away because the numbers are well below projections, Dr. Deena Hinshaw warned that the virus still needs to be taken seriously.

Premier Jason Kenney reiterated those sentiments, stating that the speed at which the province can reasonably look to get the economy going again will depend on how diligent Albertans are with precautions.

“If we stay vigilant, and disciplined about practicing rigorous personal hygiene and staying home as much as possible and maintaining physical distancing, wearing a face covering in all crowded spaces and observing all the public health orders, we’ll be able to look at cautiously restarting the economy,” said Premier Kenney.

Alberta has 70 hospitalizations due to the virus, with 18 in the intensive care unit according to the latest update  April 22.

Alberta continues to send medical equipment to harder-hit provinces like Quebec who currently have over 1300 patients in hospital and over 200 in intensive care.

This week the province will send 25 ventilators to Quebec to areas where they are most needed.

Kenney said Quebec is about three weeks ahead of Alberta’s curve and equipment will be returned to Alberta once they are past that curve. Alberta has hundreds more ventilators than the province expects to need even at the peak of the pandemic.

“We currently have about 600 ventilators on hand, and on any given day, about a hundred people, both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 related patients are using ventilators,” said Kenney.

There was also a call for volunteers and an announcement of a new tool, Alberta Cares Connector, to connect Albertans with volunteer opportunities.

The Northern Lights Volunteer Awards was also launched by the province, to honour everyday heroes in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Honourees will be nominated by fellow Albertans and selected for profiling on the program’s website and through social media.

There are no requirements for hours of service, and any individual or group who helps out in their community is eligible for an award. Nominations will be accepted online on an ongoing basis and require a brief story about the nominee’s contribution.

In other government updates this week, Health Minister Tyler Shandro stated April 20 that continuing care facilities have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic across the country. About half of deaths in Canada due to COVID-19 are occuring in continuing care facilities and 330 cases have been reported in these facilities in Alberta.

New funding was announced for continuing care for increased health-care aide staffing levels, along with a wage top-up of an additional $2 per hour for health-care aides, and up to 1,000 paid student practicum positions to fast-track certification and get more staff into our continuing care facilities. Additional staff will help deal with staffing shortages across the system, stated a provincial news release.

These new measures are estimated to cost an additional $7.3 million per month and are specific support for the pandemic period. The province also advanced $24.5 million to operators to help address immediate cost pressures due to COVID-19.

On April 17, Kenney said the $1 billion federal energy stimulus package, a partnership to address inactive wells, will immediately save or create thousands of jobs and keep energy service companies going. 

Alberta Health is working with employers and Alberta Health Services to expand testing to asymptomatic residents and staff in continuing care facilities and outbreak sites. 

Alberta’s testing capacity has rapidly expanded and anyone with symptoms anywhere in the province can now be tested.

Those with symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, fever, runny nose, sore throat, or shortness of breath, should complete an online COVID-19 self-assessment.

As of April 17, Alberta’s testing capacity was at approximately 7,000 samples per day, and the laboratory network is working to increase this capacity.

More than $13 billion has already been committed to the COVID-19 response by the provincial government.

A provincewide clinical trial to determine the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19 in those people at the highest risk of developing severe symptoms started on April 13, and on April 14 the province accelerated construction of five new schools to help get Albertans back to work.