EDMONTON — Alberta is expanding its eligibility for COVID-19 testing to anyone with symptoms of the illness.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's medical officer of health, said Monday that the measure is effective immediately and that the most effective way to arrange for testing is to complete an online assessment form on the Alberta Health Services website.
Testing can be done for anyone who has a fever, cough, runny nose, shortness of breath or a sore throat, she said.
"We have seen from other jurisdictions that have successfully flattened the curve that aggressive testing is essential to controlling the spread."
Ten days ago, the province cleared a backlog of tests connected to people who had travelled abroad and began testing those who were most at risk, Hinshaw said.
She said the province has completed more than 77,000 tests so far and has a current capacity of 7,000 tests a day. Alberta is hoping to do 20,000 tests a day by mid- to late May, she added.
"We will carefully monitor the volume of completed tests and we may need to make adjustments at some point in the future," Hinshaw said.
"As long as we maintain our testing and lab capacity, it is my hope that we can continue to offer this broad access to testing."
Hinshaw also announced Monday that the province saw 81 new cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 1,732.
There were two additional COVID-19 deaths in the province. One man in his 80s died in the Calgary area and a woman in her 80s died at a long-term health facility in the city as well, Hinshaw said.
As of Monday afternoon, there were a total of 46 deaths in Alberta due to COVID-19. Of the 47 people in hospital, 14 are in intensive care units. So far 877 people have recovered.
Hinshaw warned that increased testing will also bring up the numbers of confirmed cases of the virus.
"I know seeing this increase in numbers may be a concern to some," she said.
"But when we look at provincial numbers by the date the swabs were collected, the percentage of tests that have come back positive has been approximately two per cent for the past several weeks."
Hinshaw said that means the rate of infection has remained relatively stable.
She said testing all symptomatic Albertans will give officials a better picture of COVID-19 trending over time.
But she said the rate of hospitalizations is a more accurate indicator of the trend than the province's total case numbers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2020
Daniela Germano, The Canadian Press