EDMONTON -- There have been five more deaths and 154 additional cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, the province announced Tuesday, pushing the provincial death toll to 80 people and the total number of cases to 4,850.

Two of the new deaths occurred in continuing care facilities, one in the Calgary Zone and another in the South Zone.

Premier Jason Kenney appeared at the daily COVID-19 briefing before Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw's usual 3:30 p.m. update to discuss the numbers, new modelling data and the plan to gradually relaunch the economy. 

The province's 202 total hospitalizations and 47 ICU admissions are well below figures shown in initial models released three weeks ago, he said.

Then, projections showed 818 people could require hospitalizations when the virus peaked in May under the most likely scenario. Updated projections now estimate 596 people will be admitted when the virus peaks. Alberta's new likely scenario also suggests 190 people will need critical care at the peak, down from an estimated 232 ICU admissions.

Kenney also introduced a new "low" scenario based on Alberta's actual experience with the disease so far, which showed roughly 300 hospitalizations and 95 ICU admissions at the peak.

"If trends continue as they are, this new low scenario could become the most likely scenario for Alberta and let's hope that's the case," Kenney said.

He said the low scenario took into account Alberta's relatively low hospitalization rate, which he said was a result of having "the youngest population in the country and we have the best testing program."

Alberta has tested 131,772 people so far, according to data on the province's statistics website, while 740,859 people have been tested Canada-wide.

The new model uses key assumptions, including:

  • not all cases are detected
  • transmission is more common within an age group, rather than between age groups
  • there is no asymptomatic transmission
  • people are infectious for five to 10 days
  • all ICU patients require ventilation
  • The new low scenario assumes 4.5 per cent of cases are hospitalized and one per cent require ICU, which the government says reflects "actual results"

Hinshaw was asked why the model assumes there is no asymptomatic transmission when emerging evidence has suggested otherwise.

"The complexity of adjusting the model to also include asymptomatic transmission as a driver would have delayed our ability to share that model," she said. "So recognizing that, as with any models, they're based on assumptions, not all of which are 100 per cent accurate."

While the new models suggest public health measures like self-isolation, physical distancing and restrictions on gatherings are working, Albertans must remain vigilant, both Kenney and Hinshaw said.

Alberta's top doctor agreed the updated projections were "good news," but warned Albertans the threat of COVID-19 is far from over.

"It's not a guarantee and cases could easily spike in Alberta if we're not careful," she said, imploring people to "hold on a little while longer."

The premier said an outline for the province's relaunch strategy will come later this week.

"We'll announce measures to move toward more economic and social activity," he said. "It has to be done in a measured way. To quote Premier Moe, 'It's going to be more like a dimmer switch than an on-off switch.'"

Hinshaw also addressed the outbreaks at the Cargill meat processing plant in High River, which has suspended operations, and JBS Foods in Brooks, which continues to operate with reduced personnel.

There are now 759 cases of COVID-19 confirmed among workers at the Cargill plant, the worst outbreak in the province, and 249 cases in workers and contractors at JBS Foods.

Hinshaw was asked whose responsibility it was to ensure health orders like physical distancing were being followed at the plants while playgrounds were cordoned off and people were being urged to stay home.

"The order specified that any essential workplace that did remain open was responsible for ensuring that their employees, and should they have customers in the worksite, that those businesses were responsible for taking measures to prevent spread in the workplace," she said.

An Occupational Health and Safety investigation is underway at both facilities.