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Alberta projects peak COVID hospitalizations to peak at 800-plus in late May

EDMONTON — Early forecasts on Alberta's COVID-19 crisis suggest hospitalization cases will peak in late May.

EDMONTON — Early forecasts on Alberta's COVID-19 crisis suggest hospitalization cases will peak in late May.

But Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, says even if that is the case it will be awhile after that before health restrictions could be lifted.

"We have to see two to three weeks of case counts going down before we'll have a really solid sense that we actually have turned that corner," Hinshaw said Wednesday.

She said the three-week window is needed given that every case they're seeing has been exposed in the previous two weeks.

Hinshaw said when they do loosen restrictions, decisions will be made carefully.

"It likely won't be opening everything up all at the same time, but there may be certain pieces that we can turn back on, so to speak, and then continue to watch the data."

But she noted the modelling itself is still raw and future decisions will also rely on continued rigorous testing, tracking down infection sources and Albertans following social distancing rules and good hand-washing hygiene.

She said the goal is "making sure that we're not just opening up and hoping for the best."

If Alberta keeps to its current containment plan, the scenario presented Wednesday sees COVID-related hospitalizations peaking at about 818 in late May, then dropping off sharply throughout June, approaching zero by early July.

Alberta currently has 1,423 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 44 people hospitalized, 16 of them in intensive care. There have been 29 deaths.

The province is under strict public health orders that clamp down on non-essential businesses and restrict public gatherings to no more than 15 people.

Premier Jason Kenney said when the province does try to reopen services and permit large gatherings it will come with strict measures to keep the virus contained. Those measures include increased testing and more screening of international travellers arriving in the province.

Kenney said opening up the economy may not happen everywhere at once.

"We intend to take a regional approach to the relaunch," said Kenney.

"If we have some regions where there is little or no cases and very little viral spread, we will very likely relax some of the public health orders in those regions before they are relaxed for certain areas where there has been a much higher incidence of viral infection," he said.

Of the 1,423 cases, 60 per cent are in the Calgary region, which includes the city, surrounding municipalities and the rural region west to the mountain parks.

Edmonton and surrounding municipalities make up 26 per cent of the cases. The remaining ones are spread around the province.

Kenney, in a TV address Tuesday, laid out expected scenarios for the virus.

If Alberta stays on its current path, a peak number of infections is expected by mid-May, with as many as 800,000 infections by the end of summer and between 400 and 3,100 deaths.

Under an elevated scenario, infections would peak earlier, at the start of May, leading to as many as one million infections and between 500 and 6,600 deaths.

Alberta, with a population of 4.4 million, has completed more than 67,000 tests, putting it among the global leaders in per-capita testing.

Kenney said Alberta's rate of hospitalizations is lower than in other large provinces, like British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. But he noted those provinces also saw their first cases earlier.

Alberta reported its first case of the novel coronavirus March 5.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2020

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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