Edmonton man is Alberta's first fatality in the COVID-19 outbreak

An Edmonton man in his 60s has become Alberta’s first fatality in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the province’s chief medical officer announced Thursday.

“As heartbreaking as this news is, it was expected,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said during her regular daily update at the Alberta legislature.

The number of confirmed cases grew by 27 in the last day, meaning there are now 146 cases in Alberta.

Hinshaw said seven of the cases are confirmed to have been contracted through community transmission, another is believed to have contracted within the community but that is still being investigated, she said.

The man who died, who was diagnosed on March 12, had underlying medical conditions. It appears he contacted the disease within the community, she said.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alberta is expected to continue to rise for the next few weeks before the peak of the outbreak is reached.

Since March 5, when the first confirmed case was announced, the number of new cases announced each day has been steadily rising, with the last three days alone seeing a jump of 82.

Concerns from Edmonton bonspiel

Community transmission, cases of the virus that are not linked directly to travel, is a serious problem, and Hinshaw repeatedly stressed the importance of self-isolating.

“Now is not the time for social gatherings,” she said.

A Saskatchewan doctor who has tested positive for COVID-19 is thought to have contracted the virus during the Western Canadian Doctors Curling Bonspiel held at the Granite Curling Club in Edmonton.

There were about 72 curlers at the event, Hinshaw said. About 45 of them attended the banquet. 

Hinshaw said Alberta Health Services is reaching out to all of the participants and asking them to self-isolate. 

It’s believed that the index case at the bonspiel may have recently visited Las Vegas.

“Limit your movement, stay close to home,” Hinshaw said.

Premier Jason Kenney said on Wednesday that the province expects the peak of the outbreak will likely come in mid-April, and drastic measures aiming at keeping the spread in check may need to be in place until the end of May.

Daycares, schools, colleges and universities and most other public facilities are closed. Public gatherings have been limited to no more than 50 people, throwing weddings into jeopardy and prompting funeral directors to advise grieving families to have private, “invitation-only” services. 

Casinos and bars that don’t allow minors have been ordered not to operate.

Many businesses of all sizes have chosen, or been forced by the lack of customers, to follow suit. 

Province’s hospitals well-prepared

Of the Alberta cases, six people are currently in hospital, three of them in ICU beds. The rest are recovering at home.

There were nine deaths in Canada as of Wednesday but none yet in Alberta. Kenney said it is only a matter of time but stressed that the province is well-prepared in terms of ventilators, hospital beds and ICU beds.

The chief medical officer of health’s daily updates have become a ritual for many Albertans anxious for news about the spread of coronavirus in the province.

On Wednesday, Hinshaw said several recent cases involved people who returned from outside the country and followed the advice to self-isolate once back home. As a result, she said, few of their contacts were put at risk.

“If you are self-isolating right now, let me say thank you. Your actions are life saving for others.”

Pharmacies to conduct screening

Alberta’s pharmacists will start being paid by the provincial government to conduct coronavirus screening, and they may be asked to take on more responsibilities, including directly referring people for COVID-19 tests or supporting the Health Link 811 information line.

“We need to maximize the capabilities of our health professionals at this time,” said Health Minister Tyler Shandro in a Thursday news release. “Pharmacists have knowledge and experience in infectious diseases such as influenza and in helping Albertans with their questions and concerns.”

A new billing code means the pharmacists will be compensated by Alberta Health. 

As well, pharmacies now have the discretion to limit prescriptions to a 30-day supply to avoid potential shortages of some drugs, said the news release. 

Noting this move could result in an increase in dispensing fees for some people, the Alberta government is lowering its own co-payment and advised Albertans with other coverage to check with their benefits provider or speak to the pharmacist.

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