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Alberta declares outbreaks at hospital in Calgary, university in Edmonton

EDMONTON — A hospital in Calgary was working Monday to contain COVID-19 outbreaks that were identified on the weekend in two separate areas and don't appear to be connected to each other.

Alberta Health Services said 14 patients and four staff members have tested positive for the novel coronavirus at the Foothills Medical Centre. One patient has died.

The outbreaks are in two cardiac care units and one general medicine unit, and there's no evidence they're related.

Dr. Nick Etches, lead medical officer for the Calgary zone, said work was underway to determine how the infection came into the hospital.

"We are managing this incredibly aggressively and chasing down every single lead," he said.

"But right now, this is a safe place for people and their loved ones to come and receive care."

The health agency said 57 staff who work in the cardiac and general medicine units were in isolation. Patients in the affected units may not receive visitors except in end-of-life situations.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer, said there have been reports of visitors not wearing masks and a staff member working while symptomatic, though a definitive cause for the outbreaks has not been determined.

"I think it's really important that we understand what the barriers are to people being able to follow the guidance with respect to not working while symptomatic, to wearing a mask, particularly when in an acute care or long-term care setting," she said.

"Because the more we understand what got in the way in these instances, the better able we'll be to prevent that happening again."

Hinshaw said it's particularly concerning that the virus has spread in cardiac units, as heart disease is a risk factor for severe COVID-19 outcomes.

In Edmonton, an outbreak at a University of Alberta student residence put varsity athletics on hold for two weeks.

Five members of the men's residence of St. Joseph's College tested positive for the novel coronavirus. They and 14 other residents of the building were isolating.

The website for the residence said, along with spiritual direction and daily mass, it is also a leader of the university's intramural sports program.

Because some athletes live in the residence, the virus could have spread to four teams in three sports, said Andrew Sharman, the university's vice-president of facilities and operations.

"Until we can confirm the contact tracing, we just don't want this to explode ahead of actually being able to pin it down," Sharman said. 

"It may be that we've already caught it, but we'd rather be preventative."

All other residences at the University of Alberta are considered safe and at low risk of exposure.

Alberta reported 119 new COVID-19 infections on Friday, 102 on Saturday and 137 on Sunday. There are 1,459 active cases, with 51 in hospital and nine in intensive care.

There are also 19 schools in Alberta with two or more cases of COVID-19. Of those, two are on "watch" status with five or more cases.

And, in three schools — two in Edmonton and one in Peace River — it's likely the virus spread from person to person within the building.

Hinshaw said it's important to put worries about COVID-19 in schools into perspective. She said one school in 1,000 has had transmission in the past three weeks.

"We will continue to monitor closely as always, but this is a positive start." 

— By Lauren Krugel in Calgary

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2020.

The Canadian Press





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