Alberta Premier Danielle Smith announced that families affected by the massive E. Coli outbreak will be eligible for a one-time $2,000 payment.
"Our goal is to get the money to the parents as quickly as we can," Premier Smith said during a Friday morning press conference. "While Alberta's government is providing this financial support, we expect that these childcare facilities recognize the hardship that has been caused and reimburse families the fees for the days that children have been spent out of care."
The province will be sending information on how to apply for assistance in the near future.
Smith added that the province is also conducting a review of all shared kitchens that serve childcare centers, in the wake of the E. Coli outbreak, though she did not commit to any immediate changes. Dr. Mark Joffe, chief medical officer of health, also responded to criticism about previous statements he made about the severity of the outbreak, leading some to question whether the province acted quickly enough.
"Let me be clear; the response to this outbreak has been swift right from the start. This situation remains very serious. However, we're somewhat heartened by the fact that it appears that the number of patients in hospital has stabilized over the last couple of days," Dr. Joffe said.
However, while the investigation is continuing, officials said that the exact source of the E. Coli outbreak may not be identified at all, though they underlined that the shared kitchen utilized by the daycares appears to be the most likely place where the contaminated source was. Thus far, 45 food items from the kitchen and daycares have been collected, with 19 results back from the lab.
"None have tested positive for E. Coli. Additional results for the samples that are remaining are expected within the next few days," Dr. Joffe added.
Dr. Jofffe also responded to criticism citing that if the shared kitchen had a history of previous violations it should have been shuttered before the outbreak.
"I can assure you that there were no delays or gaps in inspecting this facility. Every food-handling facility in the province is inspected at least once a year. That is the standard and the requirement under legislation. In the case of this facility, it was inspected five times in 2023 directly related to the fact that violations had previously been identified."
Joffe said that there were concerns about the facility, which is why public health inspectors more than doubled their visits. The last routine inspection of the kitchen occurred in late April 2023. Two infractions were found at that time, and they were corrected by the end of the day by the operator as of the end of April 2023.
"It's important to note that under the Public Health Act, AHS does not have the ability to permanently close a food handling facility unless critical violations continue to exist."
The shared kitchen the several Calgary daycares utilized remains closed and provincial officials underlined it was be closed indefinitely. When Premier Smith was asked if there's a possibility that the shared kitchen may re-open at some point in the future, once the investigation into the outbreak is concluded and the health violations are rectified, Premier Smith said no definitive decision will be made until the investigation is complete.
"Indefinitely means indefinitely," Smith said.
As of Friday, September 15, there were 337 lab-confirmed cases of E. coli connected to the outbreak. There are currently 12 patients receiving care in the hospital. Ten patients have been confirmed as having hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which is a severe illness caused by E. coli infection. Six patients are receiving peritoneal dialysis at Alberta Children’s Hospital.
"Children with severe illness are in stable conditions and are receiving the care they need in hospital. Other children and families are receiving care and support at three outpatient clinics set up in Calgary hospitals," the province stated.
26 patients have contracted E. coli through secondary transmission. This occurs when someone has contact with one of the patients directly linked to the outbreak. All are within households already linked to the outbreak. Physicians say the small number of secondary transmissions highlights the fact that the quick response to this outbreak and communication with families has helped to limit the spread.
The closure orders for all 11 facilities have been rescinded following thorough and highly detailed reinspections by public health officers. These daycares have addressed immediate risks and met all requirements under the Public Health Act related to sanitization and safe operations. And while, one additional case of E. coli has been discovered at a separate daycare centre, there are early indications suggest this child may have been in contact with one of the children involved in the outbreak.
"The child-care centre is under a closure order while an investigation takes place. Families and staff at the centre have been notified and are undergoing testing," the province added.
The province also added that any children and staff from facilities with confirmed cases must meet certain requirements, including providing negative stool samples, before returning to daycare. AHS has sent letters to all parents outlining these requirements and to provide advice and support.
On September 4, AHS declared an E. Coli outbreak in the Calgary zone, due to a noticeable increase in young children coming to the emergency departments in the city with gastrointestinal complaints, including bloody diarrhea.
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