Alberta Health confirmed a record 800 new cases of COVID-19 in the province on Thursday, prompting its chief medical officer of health to issue an ultimatum: without a decline in active cases, more action will be needed to protect Alberta's health-care system.
The province has set and broken its daily record numerous times in the past two weeks, with former highs of 622 cases being reported on Oct. 29 and 592 cases on Nov. 1.
But never 800.
"It means that the measures we introduced 10 days ago, which may have helped cases plateau over the last few days, are not having enough of an effect," Dr. Deena Hinshaw said in an afternoon update.
"It means that in about seven to 10 days from now, our hospital numbers will rise further, which means that care for Albertans with other issues besides COVID will be impacted."
Her department couldn't report exact numbers due to "internal discrepancies" in its reporting system, but said its ability to identify and follow up with new cases was unaffected.
LOW-PRIORITY CASES TO INFORM OWN CONTACTS OF POSITIVE DIAGNOSIS
However, Hinshaw said Alberta Health Services' ability to trace new cases is being outpaced by the rate of transmission, and as such, AHS will have to focus on "high-priority setting" cases until more contract tracers are hired.
"AHS does not currently have the capacity to call every contact of every case in a timely way," Hinshaw commented.
"Every confirmed case will still get a phone call to identify whether or not they have a link to a high-priority setting, like a continuing care facility, a health care setting, or a school. If a case attended a group event, like a wedding, a party, or a group fitness class while infectious, or if this could have been the source of their infection, the organizer of these events will still be contacted to ensure attendees are notified," she explained.
If a case isn't linked to a high-priority setting, they will be given information about calling their own contacts and informing them of the need to isolate and be tested.
"The importance of making sure cases notify their own contacts will be stressed to them when they have that phone call from the Alberta Health Services public health professional," Hinshaw promised.
ALBERTANS SPREADING DISEASE BY WORKING, SOCIALIZING WHILE INFECTIOUS
A day earlier, the province reported 6,230 active cases across Alberta, with 164 Albertans in hospital.
On Thursday, Hinshaw said Alberta's two largest cities each have more than 2,500 cases, a "high proportion" of which who worked or went to a social gathering while symptomatic.
In Edmonton, nine per cent of active cases worked while they had symptoms. Another eight per cent visited retail or service businesses. Another eight per cent went to a social gathering.
In Calgary, 11 per cent worked while symptomatic. Another nine per cent travelled. Another seven per cent attended a social gathering.
"We are talking about at least 500 people who did not stay home while symptomatic. This is significant. I am calling on Albertans to please stop all activities if you have any symptoms," Hinshaw urged Albertans.
In each city, an estimated 40 per cent of cases were exposed at home or at a gathering.
"One of my big concerns is actually that I don't think Halloween is yet driving these numbers," the top doctor commented.
She said the current rate of cases was increasingly present in conversations about how to move forward, but not that it was time for stricter restrictions.
"The timing is about wanting to be sure that the measures we're putting in place are balancing again the COVID impacts and the impacts of restrictions."
ACCURATE DATA TO RETURN FRIDAY
Alberta Health is expected to release up-to-date and specific data for Wednesday and Thursday on Friday.
"This has not been a good week," Hinshaw admitted, referring to a system upgrade over the weekend, and a separate system issue which caused late data on Wednesday and inexact numbers Thursday.
"Sometimes a car breaks down."
All Hinshaw said about the issue was that "internal discrepancies" were found by her team during routine quality assurance processes.
It led to Hinshaw only being able to report "about 800" cases in some 14,000 tests on Thursday, and an inaccurate reporting of tests conducted the previous day. On Wednesday, Alberta Health reported nearly 600 COVID-19 cases among 7,400 tests; the accurate number of tests is actually 11,000, Hinshaw said.
"The team is working hard to address this as we speak."