EDMONTON — As Alberta announced the most new deaths in a single day from COVID-19, including four in a nursing home, its chief medical health officer unveiled new measures to prevent staff from spreading the disease.
"We know we have a problem with cases in long term care facilities. We have several outbreaks and we are doing everything we can to prevent any more outbreaks and to deal with the ones that we currently have," Dr. Deena Hinshaw said during a news conference.
The province recorded 49 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday for a total of 1,500. There were also seven new deaths, four of which Hinshaw said were at the McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre in Calgary.
They bring the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 at the centre to 17.
Hinshaw said changes will mean that all workers in continuing care facilities will be required to wear masks at all times when providing direct patient care, or when working in patient care areas within two metres of others.
Up to now, masks had only been required when caring for patients with illness. That was for the protection of the workers, she explained, but now health officials want to protect patients from workers who may not be aware they have COVID-19.
Hinshaw said the province is also requiring all workers in continuing care facilities to work at only one site. The requirement will take effect late next week, allowing operators time to adapt.
"The requirements are currently in effect at outbreak locations but will now be required at all long-term care and supportive living sites across the province," Hinshaw said, noting that staff who work in more than one facility have contributed to the disease's spread.
She said staff may not have been aware they had COVID-19 because they only had mild symptoms, or even no symptoms at all. She said the government may look for ways to assist workers, saying she realizes many of them have multiple part-time jobs.
Starting immediately, Alberta Health Services is also requiring all health-care workers who provide direct patient care or work in patient care areas to wear a surgical or procedural mask continuously, at all times and in all areas of the workplace where social distancing is not possible.
The government is also working to ensure enough personal protective equipment is being shipped to facilities so they can comply with the new rules, Hinshaw said.
"We wanted to make sure that we had processes in place to enhance supplies and that we were doing all of that legwork so that we weren't implementing this recommendation without the means to actually make it happen," she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 10, 2020.
The Canadian Press