Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, says the coronavirus risk to Albertans remains low, but the global situation is worsening, so people should plan ahead. (Contributed photo).

Central Albertans should plan ahead in case of coronavirus pandemic, advises health expert

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the local risk is still low, but the situation is rapidly changing

Space crunches at Red Deer hospital and other Alberta health facilities mean separate assessment and treatment centres are being considered in case the coronavirus situation becomes a pandemic.

Alberta’s chief medical officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said Wednesday that staff at each of Alberta’s health zones are assessing the capacity of their hospitals to determine whether they could handle an influx of novel coronavirus cases, on top of regular influenza cases.

It might be necessary to open up separate centres outside of hospitals in some communities if the new viral caseload creates a serious health crisis in Alberta, said Hinshaw.

Alberta Health has ordered more protective face masks for hospital workers, as well as other equipment that could help if the situation worsens.

But she stressed this is far from the case, now — as this province still has no identified cases of coronavuris: “The risk in Alberta is still very low.”

However Hinshaw acknowledged there is growing international concern the situation could turn into a pandemic.

“The global situation is changing rapidly,” said the medical officer, who feels it’s prudent to start longer-term planning since there are now six countries, aside from China, that are dealing with a higher volume of viral cases as well as deaths.

This week, Health Canada began asking travellers who were recently in Hong Kong, Singapore, Iran, South Korea, Japan and Italy to monitor themselves for flu-like symptoms when they return.

If they develop coughs or congestion, they should call the Health Link line to notify provincial experts.

These people might be asked to stay home in self-imposed quarantine for 14 days.

Hinshaw said she could not advise Albertans, either way, about whether they should travel to these countries.

So far, Canada has not issued travel bans, but has stated travellers should “exercise a high degree of caution.” She believes people need to make their own judgments.

Hinshaw feels it’s time everyone thought ahead and made some preparations to ensure they have enough food and medication at home, in case they can’t leave the house for a couple of weeks.

Employers should also begin planning how they can continue operating if several staff members are unable to come in to work, she added.

Hinshaw said 80 per cent of infected people only get mild symptoms of the virus that’s thought to have spread from bats to humans. (The death rate is under three per cent.)

While most people feel well enough to go about their regular routine, they can unknowingly be spreading the virus to others.

Health experts believe working remotely would be a better option than asking sick people to come in and risk infecting co-workers.

The best way of preventing getting the virus is still regular hand washing — she suggested every hour — as well as keeping hands away from your face and staying at least a metre away from someone with a cough.


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