COVID-19 cases in Alberta rise to 226, with 31 new cases since Friday

Officials have identified 31 new cases of COVID-19 since yesterday, according to Alberta's deputy chief medical officer of health.

These new cases raised the total number around the province to 226, Dr. Marcia Johnson said on Saturday afternoon. Up to 16 of these cases may be due to community transmission.

There have been no additional deaths from COVID-19, Johnson said. An Edmonton man in his 60s died Wednesday, less than a week after being admitted to a hospital intensive care unit.

Johnson also said one additional person is in intensive care due to COVID-19, meaning the number in Alberta in ICU has risen to six, with 11 in total hospitalized.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, has been holding daily news conferences to keep the public aware of the spread of the virus and inform the public about any new government health directives in response to the pandemic, is taking the weekend to spend time with her family.

The Calgary zone is still seeing the majority of COVID-19 cases in Alberta with 139, according to Alberta Health's COVID-19 stats page. According to Alberta Health, the Edmonton zone has 57 cases, while two cases have been confirmed in Canmore and, as of Saturday, one case in Jasper.

A new plan to allow public health inspectors to monitor large groups and businesses will be rolled out in the next week, Johnson said. A plan for police to be given the power to hand out fines to people not following the province's health recommendations is also expected next week.

"We think that's just part of the picture," Johnson said.

"When people are asked to do something that's difficult,everybody wants to do the best they can, but there are some unfortunately who don't always go along with the restrictions. To make as much cohesion in society as we can, it is nice to have a mechanism to nudge the reluctant people toward helping keep all our communities safe."

The total of 31 new cases is down from the 49 that were announced on Friday, but Johnson warned against taking this one positive data point as an indication that coronavirus spread is slowing.

"The whole aim of all the social distancing restrictions we've put in is to decrease the number of people getting ill, and to decrease the speed at which they're getting ill," Johnson said.

"If it is an indication, that'd be great. That's what we're looking for. It's too soon to make that conclusion at this point."

Johnson said one recognized case on Saturday came from a seniors' home, but didn't specify which home this case was found in in order to protect patient confidentiality.

Johnson said it's fine for healthy people to continue going outside to get out of the house, but that it's still important to maintain social distancing of at least two arms' lengths away between people who do not live together.

Johnson said there will not be a news conference update on Sunday.

The age group most affected by COVID-19 cases is still people in their 50s and 60s, Johnson said.

A handful of Alberta's cases are connected to the Pacific Dental Conference held at the Vancouver Convention Centre from March 5 to 7, Johnson said, but she didn't specify the exact number. A person who was diagnosed with COVID-19 attended the conference, and cases in other areas of Canada have already been traced back to this conference.

Johnson said they're not aware of anyone who has no fixed address who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

International travel remains the largest risk for coronavirus' spread, Johnson said, but she added there will be a shift in Alberta to manage both returning travellers and community transmission in Alberta's testing for COVID-19.