An Alberta health department warning has only grown more bizarre

By Kevin Liptak, CNN

It has been nearly five months since the health department issued a travel warning to Alberta’s hundreds of thousands of tourists and visitors, cautioning them not to travel to or within the province of British Columbia for surgeries.

A massive outbreak of the superbug carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, better known as CRE, forced the province to go to bat against the bacteria. The COVID outbreak has since ballooned to its highest point yet, with more than 41,000 patients in 20 hospitals being identified as potentially exposed to the bacteria.

In a speech to parliament Friday, Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said the last time the province’s acute care health-care hospitals had seen COVID cases was in 2014. At that time, Alberta reported 3,000 cases. The province is currently at 81,600 patients that could have contracted COVID.

“By any standard, the COVID outbreak is an unprecedented circumstance. It has exceeded all expectations,” Hoffman said in the speech. “Sadly, we can only assume that the COVID outbreak has yet to hit its peak.”

Alberta still has work to do before the COVID situation is brought to a “more stable and positive” situation, she said. Hoffman did not specify what that means, nor did she provide details on the steps taken to lower the backlog. Hoffman said that improvements will be made, but no details were given.

“I believe that the COVID situation has stabilized,” Hoffman said. “There are significant challenges ahead, however, and I won’t rest until COVID is gone.”

Earlier this month, Canadian health officials announced that Alberta’s cases of COVID were the lowest since late May. Hoffman said there were now 149 more patients being treated with medication to fight the bacteria, which she said was up significantly from the number of patients treated before the COVID outbreak began. The new number does not include the 143 patients already treated with the medication.

On Tuesday, the province updated its travel advisory about the superbug.

Earlier this month, Hoffman said the COVID outbreak was “financially unsustainable” and that Alberta had a “significant” budget gap. The province recently reversed its budget outlook and expected a surplus of $900 million, Hoffman said.

Hoffman said some doctors had been reimbursed for time spent caring for patients diagnosed with COVID. She said the province also plans to cover the costs of treating “unavoidable” COVID-related effects, such as antibiotic-resistant staph infections.

In an interview with CBC, Hoffman called COVID a “serious and unacceptable health care situation.”

“It’s been overwhelming the first time, and it’s equally as overwhelming now,” she said.

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