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319 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Alberta
EDMONTON -- There are 319 new cases of COVID-19 in Alberta while another two people have died, health officials said Thursday.
It brings the total number of cases to 3,720 in Alberta and pushes the death toll to 68 people. Officials say 1,357 people have recovered and more than 112,000 people have now been tested. The government recently expanded testing to any Albertan showing symptoms including fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose or shortness of breath.
The day-over-day increase in cases is the province's largest yet, after 306 cases were announced Wednesday.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health, said one of the new positive tests reported Thursday occurred in a worker from Sofina Foods in Calgary.
"To date, this is the only identified case at this plant, so it is not considered an outbreak," Hinshaw said, adding Alberta Health Services is working with the plant to ensure prevention measures are in place.
AHS is also offering testing to all employees at the facility whether they show symptoms or not.
Hinshaw said she continues to be concerned about outbreaks in continuing care facilities around the province, as well as high-profile outbreaks at the Cargill meat processing plant in High River and JBS Foods in Brooks.
In High River, the number of cases in employees at the meat plant rose to 480, while the number of cases confirmed in workers and contractors at JBS Foods reached 124.
There are currently 390 cases in continuing care facilities, Hinshaw said.
"I know these numbers can be alarming. We are working to ensure every outbreak has aggressive interventions as soon as it's identified," she said.
Albertans should still expect to see new cases in the days ahead because exposures that happened before stricter measures were put in place won't result in new infections for up to two weeks.
Hinshaw also turned her attention to the warm weather and the potential for mass gatherings.
She clarified to event and festival organizers that Albertans are prohibited from attending any events of more than 15 people, while gatherings of fewer than 15 people must respect two-metre physical distancing rules.
"We need to remember that a single case of COVID-19 can spread like wildfire among large groups of people," she said. "This decision was not made lightly, but we must do everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19."
Her comments were made just minutes after Calgary Stampede officials and the city's mayor announced the cancellation of the 2020 event, the first time in 97 years the "Greatest Show on Earth" won't take place.
It also came on the same day Edmonton's K-Days festival announced it would not go ahead with its 2020 event.
Hinshaw said such festivals hold potential to be "super-spreader" events where one person can spread the virus to exponentially more people.
As for when large gatherings could be held again, she said authorities would evaluate data over the summer to see if some measures can be lifted in fall.
She also urged Albertans with summer homes from traveling to them, now that summer is approaching.
"Now is not the time to have people moving through the province and possibly unknowingly spreading the virus."
She said she may revise that advice when prevention measures are eased.
While Alberta is flattening the curve, with numbers of infections and hospitalizations far below modelling projections, Hinshaw said the next few weeks will be key in the fight against the disease.
To that end, Alberta Health is in the final testing phase of a new smartphone app that will speed up contract tracing that must be performed when someone tests positive for COVID-19.
The app uses Bluetooth technology to tell users if they came into contact with someone who had a positive test, but will not track locations or store information on a government server, Hinshaw said.
The app will be voluntary to download and Hinshaw said the Office of the Privacy Commissioner has reviewed it with no concerns.
It will be available to Albertans "in the coming weeks," Hinshaw said.