TEST­ING EX­PANDS

Phar­ma­cies to of­fer swabs

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - JA­SON HER­RING jher­ring@post­media.com Twit­ter: @ja­sonfher­ring

A pa­tient at an Ed­mon­ton hos­pi­tal has died of COVID -19, Alberta’s top doc­tor an­nounced Thurs­day, marking the prov­ince’s first death of a pa­tient who ac­quired the novel coro­n­avirus while in acute care.

Dr. Deena Hin­shaw said the pa­tient, a man in his 80s, was at the Mis­eri­cor­dia Com­mu­nity Hos­pi­tal, which has an out­break that has in­fected six pa­tients and five staff mem­bers.

She stressed that Al­ber­tans shouldn’t fear go­ing to hos­pi­tals and said those on the af­fected unit at Mis­eri­cor­dia are be­ing tested as a pre­cau­tion.

“We’ve been in this COVID re­sponse for al­most four months now and this is the first time that we’ve had an acute care out­break where a trans­mis­sion has oc­curred within that fa­cil­ity that’s af­fected pa­tients,” Hin­shaw said.

The new death brings Alberta’s to­tal to 154, in­clud­ing 112 in the Alberta Health Ser­vices Cal­gary zone.

Also Thurs­day, Health Min­is­ter Tyler Shan­dro an­nounced that test­ing for the coro­n­avirus would ex­pand to some com­mu­nity phar­ma­cies. Pre­vi­ously, test­ing has only been avail­able through AHS.

Shan­dro said that 20 phar­ma­cies, mostly in Cal­gary and Ed­mon­ton, would begin of­fer­ing test­ing within days for peo­ple who do not have COVID -19 symp­toms and have not had any known ex­po­sure to the dis­ease. In­volved phar­ma­cies will re­ceive train­ing and be sub­ject to strict pro­to­cols, he said. The move is meant to make get­ting tested more con­ve­nient.

“This is a step that just makes sense. Phar­ma­cists are highly trained health pro­fes­sion­als,” Shan­dro said. “Test­ing is well within phar­ma­cists’ scope of prac­tice and of com­pe­tence.”

Much like AHS tests, the phar­macy test will be a throat swab that will then be sent for lab­o­ra­tory anal­y­sis. Shan­dro said the ex­pan­sion should bring Alberta’s test­ing ca­pac­ity to 16,000 tests each day.

If pi­lot­ing the pro­gram at the 20 phar­ma­cies goes well, he said, the pro­gram will ex­pand to other phar­ma­cies.

In re­cent weeks, Alberta has con­sis­tently pro­cessed more than 5,000 tests daily, hit­ting highs of more than 9,000 tests in a sin­gle day.

On Thurs­day, the prov­ince an­nounced it had com­pleted more than 6,300 tests since the pre­vi­ous day, de­tect­ing 26 new cases — about a 0.4 per cent pos­i­tive rate.

A to­tal of 506 cases re­main ac­tive, in­clud­ing 207 in the AHS Cal­gary zone. Ad­di­tion­ally, 7,191 Al­ber­tans have of­fi­cially re­cov­ered from the coro­n­avirus.

As of Thurs­day, 38 Al­ber­tans re­main in hos­pi­tal with COVID-19, eight of whom are re­ceiv­ing treat­ment in in­ten­sive-care units, a slight in­crease in both met­rics from Wed­nes­day.

Hin­shaw stressed that while the risk for se­vere out­comes is more com­mon in older de­mo­graph­ics, COVID-19 can be dan­ger­ous for younger Al­ber­tans as well.

“The aver­age age of COVID-19 in­fec­tions in Alberta is 39. No one is im­mune to COVID-19, and cur­rently, there are four Ed­mon­to­ni­ans in hos­pi­tal un­der the age of 30,” she said. “Th­ese pa­tients do not have any un­der­ly­ing health con­di­tions and yet they are very sick.

“This is an­other re­minder that COVID -19 does not dis­crim­i­nate.”

One re­cent COVID-19 out­break that il­lus­trates that is at the Verve Con­do­minium high­rise in Cal­gary’s East Vil­lage. There, 32 res­i­dents have tested pos­i­tive for COVID-19, with 27 of those cases still ac­tive. Three oth­er­wise healthy res­i­dents of that build­ing were hos­pi­tal­ized, Hin­shaw said. The virus is thought to have spread through high-touch sur­faces.

She urged Al­ber­tans not to stig­ma­tize those in­volved in out­breaks, say­ing it can dis­cour­age peo­ple from get­ting tested.

With sum­mer of­fi­cially here and Canada Day in less than a week, Hin­shaw asked peo­ple to avoid bar­be­cues and pot lucks and in­stead to bring their own food and drink, and to hold gath­er­ings out­side.

“The virus is still here, and we know gath­er­ings can help to spread it,” she said.

“COVID-19 loves a party, so we can’t let our guard down.”

Also Thurs­day, Hin­shaw hosted a livestream ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion with Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Adri­ana La­grange, who said Alberta would com­mit to a backto-school plan for the up­com­ing school year by Aug. 1. The prov­ince an­nounced last month three po­ten­tial sce­nar­ios for re­open­ing schools, de­pend­ing on the sta­tus of Alberta’s COVID-19 fight.

Dur­ing the Q and A, Hin­shaw said any stu­dents who were in close con­tact with a class­mate who tests pos­i­tive for the coro­n­avirus will need to stay home from school for two weeks.

But chances are low that a whole school would have to tem­po­rar­ily shut its doors.

“It’s un­likely that we would be need­ing to close a school for a small num­ber of cases be­cause we could han­dle it through the typ­i­cal public-health mea­sures,” Hin­shaw said.

DAVID BLOOM

A man at Ed­mon­ton’s Mis­eri­cor­dia Com­mu­nity Hos­pi­tal has become the first Alberta pa­tient to die af­ter con­tract­ing COVID-19 while in care.

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