Alberta's contact tracing improving as 652 new COVID-19 cases identified, 38 more deaths

WATCH ABOVE: Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says the Alberta Health Services has improved its contact tracing, bringing the unknown source percentage down to 47.

Alberta’s contact-tracing system is improving and greatly reducing the number of COVID-19 cases with an unknown source, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Tuesday, as the province added 652 new cases of the disease.

The province’s chief medical officer of health said Alberta Health Services is “making progress” in getting through the backlog.

“We are now able to reach out within 24 hours to all high-priority cases of COVID-19, including those involving school-aged children, health-care workers, long-term care workers and those who are involved in critical response,” Hinshaw said.

“With more contact tracers and fewer cases, we are reducing the number of cases with unknown exposures.”

Hinshaw added that currently, 47 per cent of active cases — which now sit at 13,220 — have an unknown source. Comparing to mid-December, Hinshaw said that between Dec. 10 and 15, the provincial number of unknown cases was closer to 80 per cent.

The province said last week that it currently has approximately 1,250 contact tracers working. Work continues to hire and train hundreds more and AHS said it now hopes to have over 2,000 contact tracers in place by early February.

AHS said contact tracers are contacting an average of 600 cases per day, compared to about 370 per day in December.

However, Hinshaw cautioned that there will always be cases with an unknown source.

“Even with a fully functioning system, there are always a portion of cases, usually around 30 per cent, where the source of exposure cannot be identified,” she said.

The 652 new cases identified Tuesday come from 9,336 tests administered on Monday. That leaves the province with a positivity rate of around 6.8 per cent, Hinshaw said.

She added that health officials are working to determine why testing numbers are so much lower than they were previously. One month ago, on Dec. 11, the province completed 20,227 tests — over double the amount completed Monday.

“We have been looking into the reasons for the low number of tests, and at the moment we don’t have any specific cause for it. We do know that our testing policies have not changed,” Hinshaw said.

“It’s at the moment difficult to say exactly what’s leading to the reduction in numbers. But certainly what I would encourage all Albertans to do, if they have any reason to go for testing… that they should proceed to get tested so that we can track our numbers.”

Hinshaw added that currently, officials believe the “majority” of new cases are related to close contacts of known cases.

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There are now 819 people in hospital with COVID-19, with 132 of them in the ICU. An additional 38 COVID-19 deaths were reported Tuesday, the majority of which involved seniors in long-term care homes.

“We must always remember that these figures are not just numbers, but lives,” Hinshaw said. “Every death involved somebody who loved and was loved by many.”

A total of 1,345 Albertans have now died due to COVID-19.

Hinshaw said she is hopeful that there will be less fatalities as more high-risk groups receive the vaccine and the program is expanded.

“We are rolling out vaccine as quickly as possible, and every day seeing more and more Albertans immunized,” she said. “As we get a clearer picture on the number of vaccines available, we will be able to make decisions on Phase 2 in the coming weeks.

“We are prioritizing availability of that vaccine to those at highest risk of severe outcomes.”

Hinshaw added that there is no sign of community spread involving the South African and U.K. variants of COVID-19 — with just the one case of the South African variant and five cases of the U.K. variant identified so far.

Lower numbers following the holidays

Hinshaw said Tuesday that the province’s lower case numbers in recent days could correlate with the fact that she believes most Albertans followed public health rules over the holidays.

“It seems from the data that we’re seeing… that the vast majority of Albertans followed public health measures and stayed within their own households for Christmas,” Hinshaw said. “That we have done well.

“Albertans should be proud of that — that most Albertans did not contribute to further spread over the holidays.”

However, Hinshaw added added that Albertans should not lower their guard.

“What we do need to do though is build on that success. We still have over 800 people in hospital. So making sure that we do not take that success for granted, that we build on it, is critical at this point.”

Death details

Of the 38 additional COVID-19 deaths reported Tuesday, 23 were from the Edmonton zone.

There were nine deaths reported that were linked to two outbreaks in the region.

At Youville Home in St. Albert, three women in their 80s, a man in his 80s and a woman in her 100s have all died. According to Alberta Health, all five cases included comorbidities. At Good Samaritan Southgate Care Centre in Edmonton, four people have died: two women in their 90s and two women in their 80s. The four cases included comorbidities.

Eight other deaths were also linked to outbreaks: a woman in her 70s who was linked to the St. Thomas Health Centre outbreak, a woman in her 80s who was linked to the outbreak at Touchmark Wedgewood Assisted Living, a woman in her 60s linked to the Summerwood Village Retirement Residence outbreak, a woman in her 70s who was linked to the outbreak at South Terrace Continuing Care, a man in his 70s who was linked to the Aspen House outbreak, a woman in her 80s linked to the Rosedeale Estates outbreak, a man in his 80s linked to the Kiwanis Place Lodge outbreak and a woman in her 100s who was linked to the Miller Crossing Care Centre outbreak.

All cases included comorbidities, Alberta Health said.

Elsewhere in the region, a man in his 50s, a man in his 70s, a man in his 80s and a woman in her 80s also died. Their cases included comorbidities. A man in his 60s with no known comorbidities and a man in his 70s with unknown comorbidities also died in the Edmonton zone.

There were seven deaths reported in the Calgary zone. Of those, three were linked to outbreaks.

A woman in her 80s linked to the Glamorgan Care Centre outbreak, a man in his 70s who was linked to the Carewest Sarcee outbreak and a man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at AgeCare SkyPointe have died. The three cases had comorbidities, Alberta Health said.

Four other people died in the region. Of those, only one – a woman in her 80s — had comorbidities.

A woman in her 70s with unknown comorbidities also died, as well as a woman in her 70s and a man in his 50s with no known comorbidities.

In the Central zone, there were six deaths reported.

Two of those – a man and a woman in their 80s – were linked to the outbreak at Season Camrose. Both cases included comorbidities, Alberta Health said.

Also from that region, a man in his 80s, a man in his 50s, a woman in her 90s and a man in his 80s died. They all had comorbidities.

There were two deaths reported from the North zone: a man in his 90s who was linked to the William J. Cadzow – Lac La Biche Healthcare Centre with known comorbidities and a woman in her 80s with unknown comorbidities.

–With files from Kirby Bourne, 630 CHED

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