Alberta ahead of the curve but worst still to come, Kenney says of new COVID-19 projections
Published Wednesday, April 8, 2020 10:46AM MDT Last Updated Wednesday, April 8, 2020 6:45PM MDT
EDMONTON -- Alberta is faring well in the battle against COVID-19 but could still see up to 3,100 deaths by the end of summer, according to projected numbers released by health officials on Wednesday.
Jason Kenney and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw discussed the extensive modelling data at a 3:30 p.m. news conference.
They first looked at the current state of the COVID-19 fight in the province, noting that Alberta's rate of confirmed cases per 10,000 people is below Canada's and slightly above South Korea's, and well below countries like Italy and Spain.
At 3.05 confirmed cases per 10,000 people, Alberta is only below Quebec's (11) and Ontario's (3.4) rates of infection among Canada's largest provinces.
Officials quickly chalked that up to the fact that Alberta is testing more people than any province in the country.
Alberta is testing 152 people for every 10,000, and per capita, is even testing more citizens than the nations of Australia, South Korea, the United States and the United Kingdom.
PROBABLE VS. ELEVATED SCENARIOS
Kenney had already addressed Albertans Tuesday night on the province's most likely scenario given health measures already taken.
Under the probable scenario, 800,000 Albertans — more than one in six — will eventually become infected with COVID-19, he said.
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Government officials said the projected totals are high when compared to the current global number of confirmed and probable cases (1,447,466) because confirmed cases are likely only the tip of the iceberg of infections that might exist.
From the beginning of the outbreak to the end of summer the disease could cause between 400 and 3,100 deaths and is expected to peak in mid-May.
Under an elevated scenario comparable to Hubei, China, infections would peak in early May at 1 million, and result in between 500 and 6,500 deaths.
While the province doesn't appear to be on track for the elevated projection, officials said they must plan for it in case the health system becomes overwhelmed.
The outlook would be much worse — up to 1.6-million infections and 32,000 deaths — if people were not practicing physical distancing and proper hygiene and health orders were not issued early on into the crisis, AHS projected.
In the probable scenario, it's likely that there are an additional one to two people infected for every confirmed case.
"This scenario is comparable to the more moderate growth seen in the UK and countries that have had some success in 'containing' growth," AHS said.
Kenney said the modelling scenarios are not concrete when compared to day-to-day numbers released by AHS, and are only intended to suggest a possible path the disease could take through the province. They will also change as AHS collects more data. .
PREPARING FOR THE WORST
The number of hospitalizations, which Kenney called the most important projection in preparing for the peak of the disease, is expected to peak at 818 in May under the probable scenario.
"The best way to measure the actual impact of coronavirus in a jurisdiction is how many folks end up in hospital because of it, or in ICU," he said. "That also indicates the severity of the impact in a particular jurisdiction, and not all places are going to be affected equally."
The projections are prompting the government to increase the number of ICU beds and ventilators available to hospitals.
There are currently 295 ICU beds and 509 ventilators in Alberta hospitals, but AHS plans on increasing capacity to 1,081 beds and 761 ventilators for COVID-19 patients by the end of April.
According to the latest projections, the province will reach its estimated peak of 232 people in critical care in May or June.
About 15 COVID-19 patients are currently using ventilators, Kenney said Wednesday.
"In the worst-case scenario that we're now planning for, we would have well over 300 ventilators in excess capacity. The real problem becomes actually personnel," he said, adding there wouldn't be enough health care workers trained to operate all of them.
As for the province's death rate of 0.05 per 10,000 people, officials noted it is much lower than provinces like Quebec (0.14) and Ontario (0.09) because of a variety of factors, one of which is likely Alberta's relatively younger population.
AHS said the province's rate of fatalities could also increase or decrease depending on how senior care homes, like the McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre which has seen 11 deaths, manage their outbreaks.
As for demographics for those infected with COVID-19, the highest rates are in both the 20-39 age range and the 40-59 age range with 446 cases each.
"But of course, a disproportionate number of those who have passed away, 25 per cent of those are in the 80-plus age category," Kenney said.
He urged younger people to continue physically distancing and self-isolating as per public health orders, because though they may not be as likely to die from the virus, they could severely impact older people.
"The more the virus spreads amongst younger age groups…the higher the chances are that elderly people will become infected, and that can be very serious."
It's prompted the province to once again expand testing eligibility, this time to include residents in the Calgary Zone, where there are 860 cases and 20 deaths.
The expanded testing also includes essential workers and those who live with people over 65 who show COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and runny nose.
Kenney provided new details about the province's "Relaunch" strategy, which will phase in economic activity once infections subside, similar to countries like Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea.
- Kenney says more "aggressive" testing is the foundation of the strategy, and the plan is for Alberta to conduct as many as 20,000 COVID-19 tests a day by the end of May.
- Close contacts: Kenney says Alberta will have more precise tracing of close contacts of those who are infected.
- Border screening: Kenney says he feels Canada waited too long to close its borders, especially to countries with high levels of infection. He says Alberta will deploy a “much more rigorous approach than the federal government has in screening and quarantining international arrivals.”
- Watching closely: The premier says Alberta will use technology to help enforce quarantine orders. He says that could include using smartphone apps when appropriate.
- Masks: Kenney says Alberta plans to “encourage and facilitate the use of masks in crowded public spaces, like mass transit.”
With files from The Canadian Press.
See the province's COVID-19 modelling projections below.