EDMONTON — Alberta is imposing new rules on long-term care centres following rising levels and outbreaks of COVID-19 at several facilities.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, said there are 74 such cases spread over nine centres, including 65 cases and four deaths at the McKenzie Towne care centre in Calgary.
“We all must do our part in keeping the most vulnerable members of our society safe,” Hinshaw said Thursday.
“COVID-19 is spread by close contact, which means every one of us must do our part in breaking the chain of transmission.
“By limiting the spread, we can help keep the virus out of nursing homes, shelters and countless other places.”
Overall, Hinshaw announced 96 new cases in Alberta, bringing the provincial total to 968. The first case was reported a month ago, on March 5.
There have also been two more deaths linked to COVID-19, bringing that total to 13. So far, 174 people have recovered.
Hinshaw said the new rules for care centres include having operators tell health officials if they have a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 or if two or more residents show symptoms of the novel coronavirus.
By law, the centres must already limit visitors and perform enhanced cleaning and take other measures to reduce contact among residents and staff.
Hinshaw said the ideal case is to have every staffer working in just one facility, adding that restriction is in place in British Columbia. Officials are working to see if that can be done in Alberta.
But Hinshaw and Premier Jason Kenney said they would have to be careful such a measure doesn’t lead to mass staff shortages that would put care centre residents at further risk.
“If orders are given that inhibit their workforce, we are concerned that it may inhibit their ability to care for the seniors, to provide food and medical attention,” Kenney said in question period.
“We’re trying to work out sensible protocols to ensure continued access to labour under restricted public health orders for continuing care facilities.”
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley told Kenney: “The answer is just to hire more people.”
Notley also asked the premier what will be done to compensate staffers if they are limited to working at one site.
Kenney said officials are consulting with care centres on this.
Hinshaw added that staffers who work at multiple facilities can’t be fired for simply disclosing they also work at a site where there is a confirmed case.
Also Thursday, the province announced it is temporarily suspending parking fees for health-care workers and the general public at all Alberta Health Services facilities.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro, in a statement, said not only is it the right thing to do for people dealing with a pandemic but it will also reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading via touch screens and buttons at payment sites.
It’s estimated the move will cost Alberta $7.6 million a month.
It is to be lifted once visits are no longer restricted.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 2, 2020
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press