Dr. Deena Hinshaw urges smaller family events, fewer cohorts to slow surging COVID-19 cases in Edmonton

Alberta’ s chief medical officer of health introduced new voluntary measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Edmonton Thursday as the province surged past the all-time high of new cases in one day. 

“While these voluntary measures are focused on the Edmonton zone, everyone in the province should take note,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said at a news conference.

“We must all take precautions to limit the virus’s spread to our friends, family and loved ones. I especially caution Albertans against planning large get-togethers this weekend. Now is not the time to be gathering in large groups, travelling long distances for the holidays or sharing food or utensils.

“Keep your Thanksgiving small, keep it safe and protect one another.”

Hinshaw is recommending all private gatherings in Edmonton be limited to 15 people, that masks be worn in all indoor work settings except when employees are at their desks, and that people limit their cohort groups to three.

“These measures are voluntary because we still have sufficient hospital beds and capacity to meet the current needs in Edmonton,” Hinshaw said. “But we are moving forward with them because it is important to use our current data as a call to action.”

The Edmonton zone now faces a crucial juncture, she said.

“It typically takes between one to two weeks before a rise in cases contributes to a rise in hospitalization,” she said.

“We must take action to slow the virus’s spread in the zone and make sure the health system can continue supporting Albertans with COVID-19, influenza and many other needs.”

WATCH | Dr. Hinshaw announces new voluntary measures for Edmonton zone

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is recommending all private gatherings in Edmonton be limited to 15 people, that masks be worn in all indoor work settings except when employees are at their desks, and that people limit their cohort groups to three. 5:52

All private and family social gatherings should be limited to no more than 15 people, rather than the current 50 people, Hinshaw said.

“The fewer people we come into contact with, the lower risk of exposure or of us exposing others,” Hinshaw said. 

Masks should be worn in all indoor work settings except when alone in work spaces such as cubicles or work spaces where workers can be safely distant from others, or where an appropriate barrier is in place, she said.

Finally, she asked people living in the Edmonton zone to limit the number of their cohorts groups to three — such as family, school and a sport or social group.

All parts of Edmonton affected

All parts of the Edmonton zone are being affected by the rising spread of the virus, Hinshaw said.

While case ratios are highest in the northeast portion of the city of Edmonton, they’re also high in south Edmonton.

Where transmission is known, household or community contacts appear to be a key driver in spreading the virus throughout the city as social and family gatherings continue to be a factor, she said.

Hinshaw said about 11 per cent of active cases in Edmonton worked or attended social gathering while symptomatic.

Almost two out of five cases in Edmonton were exposed to the disease by a close contact, she said. 

Another 26 per cent of cases are linked to an ongoing outbreak.

“We have also seen several workplace outbreaks, where spread between employees has occurred, showcasing an opportunity to improve prevention measures within workplaces,” Hinshaw said.

Alberta reported 364 new cases of COVID-19, the highest new-case count ever, and two new deaths Thursday.

Three-quarters of all new cases in the province — 276 — in Edmonton.

The Edmonton zone now has 1,250 active cases 169 more cases than Thursday’s record number.

Over the past week, the positivity rate increased to four per cent in Edmonton, Hinshaw reported. At the same time, the reproductive value — which measures how many new cases on average are infected by each person who already has the virus — rose from 1 to  1.3.

City had asked for new measures

City of Edmonton administrators asked the province Wednesday to further reduce limits for gatherings, encourage more businesses to let their employees work from home, restrict non-essential travel and pare down cohort sizes. 

While Edmonton has had higher case counts for several weeks, those counts were only increasing slightly, even staying relatively stable, Hinshaw said. 

“It’s only in this past week that we have seen an increase in that reproductive number moving from around 1 to 1.3.

“And that tipped up very quickly.” 

Hinshaw said Edmontonians may have become careless because they hadn’t felt the personal impact of COVID that others in the province have experienced. 

“We have done some focus groups in the last month or so to look at the opinions of people and those who maybe aren’t following restrictions and what would prompt them to do. Unfortunately the answer is that they would follow restrictions if they were personally impacted.

“For some people, unfortunately, they are more strongly motivated when it hits closer to home.”

Hinshaw rejected that easing health restrictions in the spring is to blame. 

“This issue in my mind is not the province-wide easing of restrictions but rather, unfortunately, some trends in Edmonton right now that I believe we can turn with these voluntary health measures.”  

Latest numbers

As of Thursday, Alberta had 2,097 active cases of COVID-19 and recorded 283 deaths.

There are now 77 people in hospital, nine more than Wednesday, while 13 of those are in intensive care.

The new deaths include a man in his 70s and a woman in her 80s, both from the Calgary zone.

Both deaths are linked to the outbreak at Foothills Medical Centre and were reported Wednesday by AHS. 

The regional breakdown of active cases on Thursday was:

  • Edmonton zone: 1,250 cases
  • Calgary zone:  604 cases
  • North zone:  97 cases
  • South zone: 92 cases
  • Central zone: 39 cases
  • Unknown: 14 cases

The total number of completed COVID-19 tests is 1,472,658.

Hinshaw will provide her next update on Tuesday, after the Thanksgiving weekend.

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