Two deaths, 426 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta over the weekend
EDMONTON -- Two more people have died and 426 additional cases of COVID-19 were reported in Alberta over the weekend, the province's top doctor said Monday.
There were 133 new cases Friday, 184 on Saturday and 109 on Sunday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.
The two additional deaths were a man in his 80s in the Edmonton Zone and a man in his 90s in the North Zone.
There remain 1,370 active cases of the disease in Alberta, up from 1,185 active cases on Friday.
Out of those, 590 active cases are in the Calgary Zone and 551 are in the Edmonton Zone.
Two northern Alberta regions — Clear Hills County and Mackenzie County — remain on the province's "watch list," meaning they have a rate of more than 50 active cases per 100,000 people.
After weeks of being above the threshold, Edmonton was removed from the watch list last week.
SCHOOL ORDER CONFUSION
Hinshaw also addressed criticism over a perceived rule change for physical distancing in Alberta schools, many of which resume in-person classes this week.
Order 33-2020, implemented over the weekend, states that school operators do not have to maintain two-metre physical distancing in classrooms where seats are arranged to prevent students from facing each other.
Masks will still be required for all staff and K-4 students in shared and common areas like hallways.
But the order being announced on the weekend sparked some concern that a potentially crucial change was being ushered in just days before the start of the school year.
Clarifying her remarks Monday, Hinshaw said the order was simply a "new tool to assist with the clarification of the requirements of the masking order."
She acknowledged that the move to clarify current health guidelines ironically created more confusion and concern.
Hinshaw said the masking requirement in classrooms will be eased, " as long as desks are placed as far apart as possible, students are seated and not doing active activities…and students aren't facing each other."
Masks will still be required in all public indoor spaces in schools, and the only way a school can exempt itself from that requirement is by submitting a written plan to Hinshaw showing that two metres of distance will be maintained at all times.
The order was made to balance COVID-19 prevention with the potential harms of masking, which Hinshaw said "can, for some, be a barrier to learning or a barrier to communication."
Responding to Hinshaw's comments on Twitter, Alberta Teacher Association president Jason Schilling said he has confidence in her advice, but two things need to be addressed to ensure safety in schools.
"The first, large class sizes must be addressed," Schilling said. "Our most recent survey tells us 25% of respondents have classes over 30. We must maximize physical distancing/smallest classes where possible. Use the federal funds to hire more staff."
Schilling also called for more "meaningful consultations" between health officials and teachers.
"We need to make sure health plans connect with education plans, teachers will be able to tell you what works in classrooms, and what doesn't, and how to fix it so it does."
Hinshaw also reported new COVID-19 outbreaks in the province, including 57 confirmed cases linked to an Ethiopian Orthodox church in northeast Calgary.
Anyone who attended the Calgary Kidanemehret Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church in the last two weeks should get tested immediately and self-isolate if they have symptoms, Hinshaw said.
The origin of the outbreak has not been identified yet.
She also reported an outbreak at an Edmonton Walmart Supercentre, where there are eight active cases among staff members.
"It's not clear if they were exposed at work or a common exposure outside of the workplace," Hinshaw said.
Updating existing outbreaks, Hinshaw said there are actually five, not six as previously reported, COVID-19 cases linked to Edmonton's Bright Horizons daycare — where two staff members and three children have tested positive.
The Harmony beef plant in the Calgary area is dealing with 66 active cases of COVID-19.
At the Lilydale chicken processing plant near Calgary, there are 24 cases with three people having recovered.
There remains only one active case at the Cargill meat processing plant, with six recovered cases.