The sharp rise in active COVID-19 cases over the past week should be seen as a "wake-up call" by every Albertan, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, said Thursday at a news conference.
The province reported two more deaths on Thursday and 114 new cases of the illness.
"This needs to be a wake-up call," Hinshaw said. "I am very concerned by these numbers."
The use of acute-care beds to treat COVID-19 patients is approaching the highest number of admissions on any single day that Alberta has seen during the pandemic, Hinshaw said. The peak of 113 hospital admissions came on April 30. The peak usage of intensive-care beds came on May 1, when 23 patients were in ICU.
On Thursday, 106 people were being treated in hospital for the disease, with 21 of them in ICU beds.
"Two weeks ago, we had seven Albertans in the ICU," Hinshaw said.
"This is also a reminder that severe outcomes are not limited to the elderly. Twenty-four of those currently in hospital are under the age of 60, including seven who are between the ages of 20 and 39."
While younger people have a lower risk of severe outcomes, she said, lower risk does not mean zero risk. And young people are as much at risk as anyone of passing the virus on to others.
One out of 50 people aged 30 to 39 who were diagnosed with the illness required admission to hospital, Hinshaw said. For those aged 40 to 69, one in 20 required hospitalization. For the 70 to 79 age group, one in 10 people who caught the illness died. For those over 80, the odds of dying were one in four.
"Think about those you know who are over the age of 70 or 80," Hinshaw said. "In my life, I have many dearly loved family members and friends in this age group, and I would not want to gamble their lives with these odds."
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Those who are younger should remember that surviving the coronavirus can still be "awful and life-changing," she said. "There can be long-term damage, such as higher risk of diabetes, and lung damage that doesn't go away when the infection ends.
"Regardless of age, we don't yet know what impact COVID-19 will have on your lifelong health."
Rural areas seeing numbers rise
Though Calgary's numbers have been climbing fastest in Alberta, even rural areas are seeing rising numbers, she said. The province's central zone, which has not seen high case numbers so far, now has 33 people in hospital, seven of them in the ICU.
"I believe the recent increase in numbers is in part reflective of the fact that fatigue has set in," Hinshaw said. "After several months of not catching the virus, it is easy to say that you feel fine, so why wash your hands? Why stay two metres apart in public? Why avoid sharing food at a barbecue?"
Alberta has seen the number of active cases rise by more than 400 over the past week.
An Alberta Health update released on July 16 reported 854 active cases. The most recent update, released Thursday, reported 1,293 cases — an increase of 439.
The guidance issued by Alberta Health is intended as a manual for how to live with COVID-19 for the rest of this year and likely beyond, said Hinshaw, who admonished those who may not be paying attention.
"I think what we need to do right now is to make sure that people understand the guidance is not a list of suggestions that can be disregarded if they are inconvenient," she said. "The message is clear. We need to learn from our own experiences and the experiences of others. We need to take current numbers as a warning and do what we need to do to prevent infections from spreading widely and quickly.
"We are all tired of COVID-19, but this virus doesn't care. We have no choice but to learn how to live with it."
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Whether case numbers go up or down in coming weeks will depend in large part on what precautions people take over the next ten to 14 days and beyond, Hinshaw said.
"The numbers of new cases we are seeing today reflect trends and behaviour one to two weeks ago. Even if we all implemented all public health guidance perfectly starting tomorrow, we will still likely have increased numbers for at least one to two more weeks.
"If we want to bring this under control by early August, now is the time to act."
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