Alberta had hundreds of ‘excess’ deaths as COVID-19 struck province: Stats Canada

People line up to be tested for COVID-19 at the Richmond Road Diagnostic and Treatment Centre in Calgary on Wednesday, June 3, 2020.

Alberta’s death toll from COVID-19 through the first three months of the pandemic may be higher than previously thought.

From the end of February to the end of May 2020, there were 639 more deaths in the province than the highest number recorded in Alberta in the past five years, according to new data from Statistics Canada.

However, provincial public health authorities only reported 146 deaths from the novel coronavirus in the same timespan, about a quarter of the entire excess mortalities.

“The excess deaths started at the end of February in Alberta, not quite coinciding with the pandemic but actually starting a bit earlier, at least from what we know of the first COVID death in Alberta,” said Stephanie Willbond, an analyst with Statistics Canada.

Alberta reported its first official death from COVID-19 on March 19.

“Then it looks like there’s excess (mortalities) throughout the rest of the weeks, with the exception of two weeks where it dipped down a little bit.”

The number of excess deaths in Alberta peaked in the week ending March 28, when 563 Albertans died, 80 more than the previous highest total.

It’s tough to say exactly what caused Alberta’s elevated death rate, Willbond said, with some of it likely reflecting factors like changes in population composition or spikes in deaths due to causes other than the coronavirus.

Related

“In the provinces where we have an excess mortality, there tends to be a higher number of COVID deaths during that period again, so we do see the trends going up together. As COVID deaths go up, excess mortality goes up,” she said.

“But in Alberta, COVID deaths only explain about 25 per cent of the excess deaths, so there are other factors.”

Regardless, the excess mortality is thought to be a direct or indirect result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Statistics Canada also raising delayed medical procedures as a possible explanation for the additional deaths.

Alberta isn’t the only province to see excess deaths amid the pandemic. The other three provinces hardest-hit by the coronavirus — British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec — also saw death counts well above average. All of Canada’s other provinces and territories showed no signs of excess mortality, with the exception of Yukon, which did not have data available.

To date, Alberta has seen 221 COVID-19 deaths, with all but 20 deaths coming in those 70 or older. Many of those deaths came from outbreaks in continuing care facilities, including 29 in

the ongoing outbreak at Edmonton’s Good Samaritan Southgate Care Centre

.

On Friday, when the province last reported new coronavirus numbers,

Alberta saw 84 new infections

, bringing its total case count to 12,053.

Alberta will next provide updated COVID-19 statistics Monday.

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Twitter: @jasonfherring

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