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Calgary E. coli cases tied to daycares up slightly to 348; hospitalizations down

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks to the media in Calgary, on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — Officials say an E. coli outbreak involving numerous Calgary daycares appears to have peaked. 

Alberta Health Services reported Monday there were 348 lab-confirmed cases of the bacterial infection, an increase of six from the weekend. 

Secondary lab-confirmed cases have also risen slightly to 27, while the number of patients receiving care at Alberta Children's Hospital has fallen to nine from 12.

All the children are confirmed to have hemolytic uremic syndrome — a complication affecting the blood and kidneys. Three are receiving dialysis, down from six over the weekend.

"As hospital admission and daily numbers of new cases continue to decline, we are seeing clear indications that the outbreak related to the initial exposure has peaked," Alberta Health Services said in statement.

It has been two weeks since the outbreak affecting 11 Calgary daycares was declared. The central kitchen believed to be the source has been indefinitely closed.

There are currently seven daycare facilities under closure or partial closure orders that were issued in the past few days, including one of the original ones affected, while 642 children connected to the outbreak have been cleared to return to a daycare facility.

Premier Danielle Smith has promised parents affected by the outbreak in the original 11 daycares will get a one-time payment of $2,000 per child.

But she told reporters at an unrelated news conference Monday that the money will not go to parents of children at daycares that have recently closed or partially closed. 

"The one-time payment was designed to be for those first 11 daycares because (of) the trauma for those parents, the disruption for those parents, the financial hardship for those parents, and the lack of confidence some of those parents have in returning their kids to school," said Smith.

"We wanted to make sure that all of them had a payment so that they could make the choices that is right for their family.

"At the moment we haven't extended it to the partial closures on the other facilities. We are hopeful that those will be reopened very quickly."

Smith has promised a review of how the outbreak occurred, while the Opposition NDP is calling for a full public inquiry.

"I have committed to do a review, I am not quite sure what form that will take just yet. I want to make sure that we've gotten through the worst of the crisis," Smith said. 

"We're at a point very soon where we will be able to shift into looking at that review."

On her Saturday radio call-in show, Smith said some of that review could fall to a panel she announced earlier this year led by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, which is examining any legislative reforms that should be considered coming out of COVID-19.

Smith said the E. coli outbreak could dovetail with Manning's mandate.

"I've asked Preston Manning to look at the full range of legal changes that might be necessary in looking at what the next pandemic response should be," she said.

"The Public Health Act is one part of it, but there's about seven or eight other pieces of legislation that he is looking at."

Earlier Monday, NDP children's services critic Diana Batten renewed the call for an independent inquiry. Batten said Smith's government should not be investigating itself and said it would be "a horrible idea" to have Manning take it over.

"Preston Manning has openly denied science and spread several damaging conspiracy theories concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. He has zero credibility to lead this public inquiry, or any public inquiry for that matter," Batten told reporters.

"Let’s listen to science and reason."

Smith's government has faced questions over why the central kitchen was allowed to remain open after earlier health violations were identified.

A report detailing health violations at the kitchen said improper sanitation, live cockroaches and issues around food handling were found following an inspection that was done a day after the outbreak was declared.

Previous inspection reports also found violations, including cleanliness and sanitation issues, an expired food handling certificate and inadequate handwashing facilities dating back to July 2021.

Last week, Smith noted that the chief medical officer of health has said there's not a mechanism in the Public Health Act to permanently close a kitchen, making it another reason to review the legislation.

— with files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2023.

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press

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