A number of new health measures were introduced in Alberta on Friday, following an increase of more than 1400 cases of COVID-19 in two days.
While the bulk of active cases continue to be located in the Calgary and Edmonton health zones, there are 431 active cases in the North Zone, which includes the Lakeland region.
Premier Jason Kenney announced expanded measures that may include the Lakeland.
“Alberta is expanding the mandatory 15 person limit on social gatherings to include all communities that are on the watch list,” said Kenney in his remarks at the provincial update Friday evening.
The province is now asking people in communities with a watch status to limit their cohorts to three or fewer and strongly recommending everyone wear a mask in all indoor work settings except when alone or an appropriate barrier is in place.
According to the COVID-19 status map, as of Nov. 6, the watch list includes Smoky Lake County, County of St. Paul, M.D. of Bonnyville, and the City of Cold.
A watch status means the communities are above the threshold of 10 active cases.
In the provincial update Friday evening, chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw noted they have been experiencing technical difficulties updating the provincial status map.
She said resolving the problem is a top priority.
“There is no risk that cases are not being identified or notified right now. We are able to get the high level case numbers from these frontline data systems.
“But we need to fix that data pipeline to be able to get all the details into our analytics system to be able to produce our dashboards,” said Hinshaw.
According to the map, the City of Cold Lake has 14 active cases of COVID-19, the M.D. of Bonnyville has 11, County of St. Paul has 11, Smoky Lake County has 24, Lac-La-Biche County has one, County of Two Hills has one, and County of Vermilion River has one.
According to the update posted by Saddle Lake Cree Nation on Friday, there are 47 active cases in Saddle Lake.
Historically, Saddle Lake numbers have been included with Smoky Lake or St. Paul on the provincial map, depending on the view selected.
According to the Saddle Lake update, one person is currently in hospital with the virus and the Saddle Lake Health Care Centre is closed until further notice because six employees at the Health Care Centre tested positive with the virus.
Rapid testing responsible for Saddle Lake spike
Dr. Chris Sarin is the Deputy Medical Officer of Health for Indigenous Services Canada, which is providing testing and contact tracing support to the Saddle Lake Cree Nation.
“It’s not a runaway situation. The measures they put in place for a number of weeks have prevented a really large explosive outbreak where hundreds of people could be infected,” said Sarin.
He said steps have been taken to manage the Health Care Centre outbreak including providing extra nurses and staff for testing and contact tracing efforts.
Testing for COVID-19 is continuing in the Quonset behind the Health Centre.
Since the first cases were discovered on the Nation in September, they have increased their testing ability to include a limited number of rapid tests which give a result within a few hours instead of being sent to the provincial laboratory which takes several days.
“So we prioritize the slots that are linked to any cases or outbreak, or high-priority staff like health care workers and we run the rapid test for them. Because those are high risk for having COVID-19,” said Sarin.
While he could not give exact numbers, Sarin said most of the positive tests they have seen in recent weeks have been the rapid tests and tests sent to the provincial lab have generally had a low rate of positive results.
“We know the rapid testing is a real benefit to the community because it gives real time results and it really helps with isolation and quarantine. And certainly getting information rapidly to the band so they can judge their non-health response,” said Sarin.
The Nation has imposed a shelter in place procedure until Nov. 20 to slow the spread.
“Individuals are advised to stay home, but may leave home to provide or receive essential services (medical appointments etc.) or engage in essential activities (grocery shopping etc.) and work for essential band programs (water delivery etc.)”
The Tribal Administration office is open from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. but the office doors will be closed and visitors are not allowed.
Kihew Asiniy Education Centre and Onchaminahos School are both closed. Students are learning from home through a combination of hardcopy homework packages and online content.