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Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw, seen here in Edmonton on March 20, 2020, told reporters the virus has likely been spread to other facilities by workers who hold jobs at more than one seniors’ site.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Alberta has confirmed cases of COVID-19 at nine seniors facilities, with the most significant outbreak at Calgary’s McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw told reporters the virus has likely been spread to other facilities by workers who hold jobs at more than one seniors’ site. On Thursday, she announced stricter requirements for alerting public health officials of coronavirus at congregate-care facilities, and set new rules for staff who work at more than one facility.

Dr. Hinshaw said Thursday there are 74 confirmed cases, among residents and staff, in nine continuing-care facilities in Alberta. Sixty-five of those cases are at McKenzie Towne centre. At that facility, a total of four residents have died. Older people are the cohort most at risk of dying from a COVID-19 infection.

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Revera Inc., which owns and operates the McKenzie Towne centre, has said there are about 139 residents living in the facility. On Thursday, spokesman Larry Roberts said there were 43 residents and 26 staff, for a total of 69 people, who have tested positive for COVID-19. (Mr. Roberts’s figure could be higher than the number reported by Alberta health officials because of a lag in the province-wide reporting system).

Dr. Hinshaw said Thursday that some cases of COVID-19 at seniors facilities are likely because of “staff working both at the McKenzie Towne long-term-care facility and another site.”

She noted the province has already limited visitors to provincial seniors centres, and enacted new protocols that include enhanced cleaning and the daily screening of staff.

But under new orders, operators will be required to notify public health officials as soon as a COVID-19 case is suspected or confirmed, and if two or more residents exhibit COVID-19 symptoms. There are also new directions on how facilities should operate if there is an outbreak.

Staff who work at multiple facilities are also now required, when there is a confirmed case, to immediately inform their supervisors. “The staff that work in that outbreak facility, in an ideal world, would be working only in that facility," Dr. Hinshaw said, noting each situation will be assessed individually.

Last month, British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer took control of staffing at nursing homes in the Vancouver area, and restricted staff at the homes to working at just one location.

Dr. Hinshaw said her decision to enact less-stringent measures than B.C., for now, is about making sure facilities still have the work force to continue to provide care to residents.

However, CUPE Alberta president Rory Gill argues that Alberta should impose “single-site staffing” to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

His union represents 150 employees at McKenzie Towne. Mr. Gill said long-term-care workers are often poorly paid and sometimes must work at multiple sites in order to make ends meet.

Mr. Gill added that at McKenzie Towne, he knows a small number of staff have decided they’re not going to work anymore.

“There’s some workers there that are just plain scared. They’re not showing up to work,” he said in an interview.

“There’s another group of workers, they feel they have the proper protective equipment. They have confidence in the safety protocols there, and they’re willing to go into work.”

The Alberta government announced 97 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the province’s total to 968. Dr. Hinshaw also reported one confirmed case at the YW Sheriff King Home, a short-stay crisis shelter for women and children leaving domestic abuse and violence.

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