Five more people have died from COVID-19 at the Good Samaritan Southgate Care Centre in Edmonton, bringing the total of deaths in that outbreak to 21.
“This is a stark example of the devastation this virus can cause,” Chief Medical Officer Deena Hinshaw said Thursday as the province reported 113 new coronavirus cases.
“We are taking this outbreak extremely seriously.”
But Dr. Hinshaw said the province would only take over operations of the long-term care home if the facility was unable to comply with mandatory public health orders.
“This has not been the case here.”
Dr. Hinshaw said Alberta Health Services has been monitoring staffing levels and that she has been assured mandatory outbreak protocols are in place. That includes twice-daily screening, widespread testing and enhanced cleaning.
Alberta has 1,408 active COVID-19 cases. Of those, 91 are in hospital and 18 are in intensive care. A total of 195 people have died.
Earlier Thursday, Calgary’s public school board outlined how it will offer online learning to families who are uncomfortable sending their children back to in-person classes in September.
Chief superintendent Christopher Usih wrote in a letter to parents that the “hub online learning approach” would be offered to students in Grades 1 through 12 only for the 2020-21 school year and would be full-time.
He said it’s a combination of online instruction and independent work and would be more stringent than the emergency-at-home learning that took place during the spring of 2020.
“It will not offer the same opportunities or supports as in-person learning,” he wrote.
“To be successful, this type of learning requires committed parent involvement and assistance.”
The board also recommends that staff and students wear masks in school and on buses, but is only making them mandatory for children who get sick while at school. In that case, a disposable mask will be provided until children can be picked up.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association has raised concern about the absence of a cap on class sizes that would ensure enough physical distancing in schools. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and others have also panned the back-to-school plan for making masks optional.
Dr. Hinshaw suggested that the plan may be tweaked in the weeks ahead as officials glean more evidence from other jurisdictions where schools have reopened.
She also detailed the results of serology tests conducted during the spring.
The tests aren’t meant to reveal whether individuals are sick or contagious, and the presence of COVID-19 antibodies does not guarantee immunity.
But Dr. Hinshaw said they provided a rough snapshot of how prevalent the virus was in the wider population and how effective testing was at that time.
“Along with the data on case numbers and hospitalizations, this indicates that Alberta’s early efforts to flatten the curve and limit the spread of COVID-19 were successful,” she said.
Anonymous blood samples from nearly 9,400 people were collected during the first week of June and less than 1 per cent had COVID-19 antibodies.
The findings, when applied to the broader population, suggest the province’s swab testing as of mid-May picked up 17 per cent of total infections.
“I know this number may sound low, but it’s actually very good,” she said, adding a similar British Columbia study in May found testing picked up 12.5 per cent of actual cases and other jurisdictions were much lower.
Asymptomatic COVID-19 swab tests are being expanded to any pharmacy that wants to participate and is able to meet safety requirements.
A limited number of pharmacies did more than 10,000 tests under a pilot program launched in June.