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Shift in COVID-19 testing underway in Alberta

“We have changed our testing protocol to really focus less on returning travellers and more on the cases that we are seeing in health care workers, in hospitalized patients and of course in long-term care."
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Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw provides an update on COVID-19 in Alberta on Tuesday (March 31).

ALBERTA – A shift in the testing of COVID-19 in the province will serve to provide a better understanding of how the virus is spreading in Alberta.

The province's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported 64 new cases of the virus Tuesday (March 31), bringing the total number of diagnosed cases in Alberta to 754. Of those who have tested positive for COVID-19, 75 are suspected to be a result of community transmission. Of the diagnosed cases, 77 involve healthcare workers.

“The aggressive health measures that we have put in place are critical to protecting the health of Albertans,” Hinshaw said.

“Each of us must do everything we can to flatten the curve and keep Albertans healthy.”

A total of nine people have died and 120 people have fully recovered from COVID-19.

The Canmore region has reported eight cases of COVID-19 and one case has been reported in the Banff region.

Hinshaw said testing for COVID-19 has shifted in the province, adding they are working to create a more automated process to collect data on the effects of the virus.

“We have changed our testing protocol to really focus less on returning travellers and more on the cases that we are seeing in health care workers, in hospitalized patients and of course in long-term care,” Hinshaw said, explaining the transition will provide a deeper understanding of the spread of COVID-19 in the province.

“We have a process in place where the confirmed cases are those who’ve had a test and have tested positive. But, we are looking at implementing a category of probable cases where they have a close exposure to someone who has a confirmed case and has symptoms that are consistent [with COVID-19].”

This shift will allow the province to better manage patients and outbreaks without needing to test the entire population in a location.

Hinshaw added this shift in testing protocol will also help the province to understand if the provincial health measures and legal requirements that have been implemented have proven effective in limiting the spread of COVID-19 in Alberta.

Hinshaw reminded people that all Albertans are at risk of catching COVID-19, adding there is a heightened danger to those who are older or have pre-existing health conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure and breathing difficulties.

“Any chronic condition puts people at risk,” Hinshaw said.

For those who do not have chronic health issues, Hinshaw implored them to ensure they are protecting themselves and following public health measures put in place against COVID-19 so they do not spread the virus to others to others.

“Even if you yourself have a mild illness you could spread that disease to others,” Hinshaw said.

“You could ... be a part of having the disease spread through the community – could be a link to having other people get severe illness.”

Dr. Mark Joffe, vice-president and medical director for northern Alberta, said that Alberta Health Service is working to ensure the space and resources needed during the peak of the virus in the province are available.

As part of this preparation, Joffe added they are exploring how care can be delivered both in hospitals and in the community based on the needs of patients.

“We are looking at all potential possibilities,” Joffe said.

He added health care workers have told them they have never seen so many beds open in facilities as are now currently available.

By April 15, it is expected that around 2,250 beds will be available across the province and ready for use if they are needed, he added.

In regards to the 77 health care workers that have tested positive for COVID-19, Joffe said that Alberta Health Services is working to ensure they have an increased capacity for staff and redundancies in place to ensure the system is not overwhelmed if workers become ill. He added the current number of infected health care is not at this time a reason to be alarmed.

“We need to be ready to provide care for Albertans when they need care,” Joffe said.

“We are a resilient workforce, we’re flexible. We’re used to adapting and we will continue to do so to provide the care Albertans need."


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