BOW VALLEY – Canmore has reported its first case of COVID-19, according to the Alberta government on its website.
There are 22 new cases of COVID-19 coronavirus announced by the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, on Wednesday (March 18), bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 119.
Hinshaw said the cases of greatest concern are six that are suspected to have occurred via community transmission, which she described as “game-changers.”
“This is concerning," she said. "We are working to make sure that our testing and testing availability is adjusted to make sure we are understanding where cases of transmission are happening."
Community tests have been taking place in the province for just over ten days.
Of the 119 known cases of COVID-19 in the province, six patients have been admitted to hospital, including three people that are currently in an intensive care unit (ICU). Those in ICU include two patients in their 60s and one patient in their 40s who have a pre-existing medical condition.
No deaths have been recorded in the province so far.
All other confirmed cases are recovering in isolation at home, Hinshaw said.
The online self-assessment provided by Alberta Health Services has been accessed more than 1.3 million times as of the morning of March 18, and Hinshaw said the province has performed close to 15,000 tests.
“Per capita, we are testing more than any other jurisdiction in North America,” she said. “To put that in perspective, that means we have done one test for approximately every 290 Albertans.”
Hinshaw said those who attended the Pacific Dental Conference in Vancouver from March 5-7 have potentially come in contact with COVID-19 because multiple cases have been found in attendees.
Anyone who attended that event is asked to self-isolate immediately, even if feeling well, until March 22. Those with symptoms should stay home, conduct a self-assessment online and arrange for testing and further instructions. They are asked to stay away from the hospital and family doctors.
Because of these confirmed cases, Hinshaw said all non-emergency dental treatment and services have been suspended. This comes after all non-urgent scheduled and elective surgeries in the province were postponed on March 17.
Precautionary measures are being taken in regards to visits to hospitals as well, Hinshaw said. Those who visit a loved one need to be free of COVID-19 symptoms, can only visit one at a time and no children are allowed to attend.
She said the province is currently operating based on information from other jurisdictions based on their experiences to understand how the virus will potentially develop in Alberta and that the projection is based on the assumption that the spread of the virus can be controlled.
Hinshaw warned that the peak of the virus will potentially take place in mid-April. However, based on the behaviour of other respiratory viruses, there is potential another wave of COVID-19 could occur in the fall.
“The effects of COVID-19 are widespread and unprecedented … COVID-19 has forced us to make some extremely difficult decisions. We have had to weigh lives against livelihoods,” Hinshaw said.
“There are no easy solutions to the situation we are in, not just in Alberta, but around the world. We need to face this together and respond to this extraordinary crisis with extraordinary kindness.”
Premier Jason Kenney also announced Wednesday that a series of measures will be introduced to reduce the financial stress placed on Albertans and employers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The bottom line for Albertans who are feeling anxious right now is they need to know there is relief,” Kenney said. “There is immediate relief on their utility bills, immediate relief available on their mortgage payments.”
Included in these measures is $50 million in Emergency Isolation Support for those in need, a utility payment holiday allowing for the deferment of bill payments for 90 days and a student loan repayment holiday for six-months interest-free.
The province has also spoken with ATB Financial and Alberta credits union to address the needs of customers impacted by COVID-19. Personal banking customers can apply for deferrals on ATB loans, lines of credit and mortgages for up to six months. Credit unions will also be working to provide relief to employers.
To support employers in the province, Kenney announced that collection of corporate income tax balances and instalments due after Wednesday (March 18) can be deferred until Aug. 31. The move will provide access to about $1.5 billion in funds that help businesses cope with the COVID-19 crisis.
These supports come after $60 million in support for seniors and other vulnerable populations and $500 million was committed to Alberta health care were announced earlier this week.
Kenney said more government actions will be announced as the crisis unfolds and reiterated that the government will “spare no expense” in continuing to fight the virus.
“Albertans are doing their part to keep each other safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19. We are doing ours by assisting Albertans and their families, protecting jobs and supporting workers and employers,” Kenney said.
“This situation is moving so fast – we will help shelter Albertans from the economic disruption of COVID-19 now, and position Alberta’s industry and businesses to bounce back when the situation stabilizes.”
Visit alberta.ca/coronavirus-info-for-albertans.aspx for more information and the online self-assessment tool.