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COVID-19 not 'urban vs. rural' issue: Hinshaw busts myths in Monday pandemic update

Last Updated May 17, 2021 at 2:51 pm MDT

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the COVID-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

EDMONTON – The province’s health officials are trying to break down some myths about COVID-19 and battle misinformation.

Premier Jason Kenney, Chef Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, and Alberta Health Services (AHS) CEO Verna Yiu went through the numbers in an update Monday.

WATCH: Kenney, Hinshaw, Yiu provide the latest provincial COVID-19 update

Kenney and Hinshaw said, contrary to some beliefs, COVID-19 is not a “big city problem” and it affects everyone regardless of where you come from or where you live.

Hinshaw advises people to think carefully before believing something they see randomly pop up on social media and to make sure they are getting their COVID-19 information from credible sources.

First, Hinshaw addressed the myth of ‘urban vs. rural’ COVID-19 cases and if it’s true that “you’re at lower risk if you live outside a major city.”

“In fact, 12 of the 15 areas with the highest active case rates are not large cities,” Hinshaw said. “Most of the areas with the highest active case rates are in rural locations.”

Currently, there are 66 areas in Alberta that have an active case rate of 300+ per 100,000 people, with half of those areas being 500 or more.

“Some of these areas such as Lac La Biche County, Chestermere, Airdrie, Lacombe and Whitecourt are reporting rates higher than Calgary, in some, rates are double those in Edmonton,” she said.

Then, Hinshaw addressed how some might say those case rates are so high because it’s a smaller area.

She says while this is true, using this method of measuring active cases is the best way to compare transmission risks in an “apples to apples kind of way.”

The second myth Hinshaw addressed was that people in smaller areas have traditionally not been at risk, and the high active case rates are new.

“While it is correct that some areas have had lower case rates at the beginning of the pandemic, that has clearly changed,” she said. “Also, case rates are not the only factor to consider. It is also important to look at the rates of severe outcomes, like hospitalizations if people get sick.”

Hinshaw then displayed a graph showing that throughout the course of the pandemic, those living in rural areas have been more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to people living in urban areas.

“Since the beginning of May, the North and Central zones have had higher hospitalization rates per capita compared to any other region of the province.”

In particular, Hinshaw says the North Zone has had more than double the hospitalization rates than that of the Calgary, Edmonton, or South Zones.

She says among cases diagnosed since February, the case to hospitalization ratio is 26 per cent higher for rural areas of Alberta than for urban ones.

“Similarly, the case to ICU rate is 30 per cent higher.”

Hinshaw also addressed myths around testing, and how questions have been raised about if polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing is the best technology to diagnose COVID-19 and to determine if someone is infectious.

“The PCR test that we use has been confirmed to be highly specific for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It does not react to other viruses, even other coronaviruses.”

Hinshaw says that studies have shown PCR tests to be 90 per cent accurate in detecting the virus that causes COVID-19 in people at the very beginning of their illness.

Finally, Hinshaw addressed those who continue to question if COVID-19 poses any threat to those besides the very elderly and those with medical conditions.

She says that while the risk of deaths is higher in some groups, COVID-19 continues to negatively impact healthy young adults as well.

“When you look at severe outcomes, 40 per cent of those who have been hospitalized since the beginning of February have been under the age of 50, including 12 per cent who are below the age of 30.”

Similarly, 32 per cent of those who have been admitted to ICU in the same time period are under the age of 50, with 7 per cent under the age of 30.