Total at 39: Chief medical health officer says 10 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta

EDMONTON — Alberta's chief medical health officer confirmed 10 more cases of COVID-19 in the province on Saturday, saying two of the patients were in intensive care.

The new cases bring the total to 39.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said six of the new cases were in the Calgary area and four were in Edmonton. The two in intensive care are both in their 60s, while the other patients were in isolation at home and are expected to make a full recovery.

Eight of the new cases have been confirmed to be related to travel or to a previously confirmed case.

Hinshaw said health officials are "aggressively investigating" to determine how the other two people became infected with the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

About 3,000 people had taken an online self-assessment test brought in on Friday to ease pressure on the province's 811 HealthLink dial-in number, she said.

Hinshaw said she understands that many Albertans are alarmed as more cases keep arising, but cautioned new instances of the virus are likely to continue for months. She again urged people not to travel and said it's "critically important" that anyone feeling even mild cold symptoms stay home.

Hinshaw expanded on her statement from Friday that schools and daycares would remain open. She said she held a conference call Saturday with more than 500 representatives from Alberta's school boards, school authorities and with education stakeholders.

"We know parents, students, and school officials are very concerned," she said.

"Alberta continues to monitor the province's situation carefully. If the situation warrants it, the Alberta government could direct the closure of an individual school, a group of schools, an entire school division, or all schools in the province," she said.

"We are prepared to make changes if and when the situation warrants it."

Hinshaw noted that the World Health Organization does not recommend school closures as the only way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in children. She also said if schools were to close in Alberta, it would probably be for longer than a few weeks.

"What we know is evidence around the effectiveness of school closures as a means to mitigate spread indicates that closures need to go on for about eight to 12 weeks. And I believe we will continue to see new cases, so if we do choose to close schools ... I think we would be looking at school closures to the end of the school year."

Hinshaw said guidelines now online for schools include a zero-tolerance policy. Any children with cold-like symptoms — including but not limited to fever — are to be sent home with their parents. She also urged parents not to send their kids to school if they have the sniffles.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 14, 2020.

The Canadian Press