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Alberta ramps up testing at care centres, which have seen 32 of 50 COVID deaths


EDMONTON — Alberta is ramping up testing to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at long-term care facilities, where 32 of the province's 50 deaths have occurred.

Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, said even staff and residents who have not shown symptoms of the virus will be tested at care centres that have had one or more cases.

"It is not acceptable that elderly Albertans are being put at risk in a place where their health is supposed to be protected," Hinshaw said Friday. "We must do more."

No visitors are allowed except under extreme circumstances. Staff must wear masks and cannot work at more than one facility.

Alberta officials are tracking outbreaks at 34 care centres across the province. There have been deaths in seven facilities, including 21 at Calgary's McKenzie Town Continuing Care Centre and five at Manoir du Lac retirement home at McLennan in northern Alberta.

Hinshaw said Alberta Health Services is taking over operation of Manoir du Lac, where 26 residents and 11 staffers have tested positive for COVID-19.

"Public health (officials) determined that protocols for keeping residents safe and well-cared-for were not being followed," she said.

Manoir du Lac has 62 residents and employs 70 people.

The residents will now undergo daily screenings, including a temperature check and symptom monitoring, and anyone showing symptoms will be isolated in their room.

Hinshaw announced 239 new cases provincewide Friday, bringing the total to 2,397. Of those, 1,124 have recovered. There were no new deaths reported.

Sixty Albertans are in hospital with COVID, 13 of them in intensive care. Those numbers are below preliminary projections released last week.

Hinshaw also reacted to criticism that she was slow to announce seven recent COVID cases among staff at the maternity ward at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary.

She had said that the outbreak was contained and patients were not at risk.

On Friday, Hinshaw said she would do better.

"I have heard clearly that Albertans rely on the information I share about unusual situations regardless of whether or not these situations pose a public (health) risk," she said.

"Going forward, we are working to include information on all confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks on our webpage to support my commitment to be as transparent with Albertans as possible while still protecting personally identifiable information."

Hinshaw also updated outbreaks at two other sites: High River and the Kearl Lake oilsands camp north of Fort McMurray.

The number of Alberta cases arising from Kearl Lake has risen to 12 and the case count in High River, south of Calgary, stands at 358.

The High River cases are linked to homes and workers at the nearby Cargill meat processing facility.

"Some of these households are in surrounding communities such as Calgary," said Hinshaw.

"Alberta Health Services has put together a dedicated outbreak response team to track this High River outbreak and to prevent further infections."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2020.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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