Reversing course, Alberta delays plans to lift COVID-19 containment measures by six weeksAug 13, 2021
Alberta is backtracking on its widely criticized plans to lift all containment measures against COVID-19 as infections and hospitalization rates in the province surge.
“Since I made my previous recommendations, I have been watching local and international data closely, and two items have emerged that have led me to recommend that we adjust our approach and defer the changes originally scheduled for Aug. 16,” chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said at a news briefing Friday morning.
Rates of hospitalizations from COVID-19 are significantly greater than internal modelling suggested, Hinshaw said. The province anticipated there to be 90 patients in hospital with the virus by Aug. 11, but there were actually 146 hospitalizations — a 62 per cent increase over projections. There is no threat to hospital capacity at this time, she said.
Modelling has not been publicly released, but Hinshaw said her office plans to release some details in the coming days. She previously said internal modelling suggested current virus spread in Alberta would peak in early September.
The top doctor also said reports of severe COVID-19 illness among children infected with the Delta variant in the United States prompted some pause. Alberta has not seen a rise in severe cases among children, with only seven hospitalizations among those under the age of 18 since July 1, and no deaths in this age group through the pandemic, but Hinshaw said uncertainty around pediatric health warranted a delay.
The reversal of course means those who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, and those who test positive for the virus, will still be legally required to isolate. Testing will continue to be available at community assessment sites. Mask use will still be required on public transit and in taxis and other ride share vehicles.
Alberta faced broad backlash for its plan to move away from those containment measures more quickly than any other jurisdiction in the Western world. Among those who expressed concerns with the move were the Alberta Medical Association, the Canadian Paediatric Society and federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu. In response to Hajdu, Premier Jason Kenney said he wouldn’t “take lectures” from the federal government on handling COVID-19.
Criticism continued through late Thursday, when the president of Alberta Medical Association’s section of emergency medicine wrote a letter to the province expressing “grave concern” about the moves, saying they will lead to an increased burden on the province’s emergency departments.
Protesters also gathered for 14 consecutive days outside Calgary’s McDougall Centre, as well as in Edmonton and Red Deer, to demonstrate against the changes.
Hinshaw apologized to Albertans frustrated by the original plan to scrap the testing, tracing and isolation measures. She added she believes opinions have been polarized through the pandemic, leading to difficulties engaging in respective debate.
“I am sorry that the way that I have communicated about these changes, and the rapid pace of them, has caused distress,” she said.
“Certainly, no individual is infallible. I have never claimed to be infallible myself. But I would also say that individuals who have different perspectives on how to move forward are not infallible either.”
Since the start of the pandemic, 2,332 Albertans have died of COVID-19, including one death reported Friday.
Infections of the virus have spiked in recent weeks, with 582 net new cases reported Friday representing the highest single-day count since May 21. The cases came from 9,300 tests, resulting in a 6.3 per cent positivity rate.
Given the surge in cases, the move to “take a more cautious approach” is welcomed, said Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Alberta. He called the previous plan “foolhardy.”
“I am relieved that they have walked back from the precipice of what would have been, in my opinion, a disastrous public-health policy,” Schwartz said.
The six-week timeline likely won’t give Alberta enough time to move past current spread of COVID-19, but Schwartz said he believes data collected by the end of September may force government to continue with its testing, tracing and isolation measures.
The NDP Opposition praised Alberta’s decision not to go forward with removing health measures Monday, but questioned why the plan is slated to resume in six weeks, rather than in line with defined benchmarks.
“I’m concerned that the Kenney government is simply kicking the can down the road and Alberta may be back in the same absurd position in September if cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions continue to rise,” said NDP health critic David Shepherd.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi also applauded the move, saying the original decision to move away from containment measures was premature.
“I am pleased that the provincial government has listened to the scientists, the doctors, the teachers, the parents, and above all, the data,” Nenshi said.
Polling from the Angus Reid Institute released Friday found just one-third of Albertans are happy with Kenney’s handling of the pandemic. The survey, conducted Aug. 7 to 10, also found 43 per cent of Albertans say current restrictions don’t go far enough, while 41 per cent believe the restrictions are about right.
Hospitalizations from COVID-19 in Alberta once again increased Friday. There are now 152 Albertans in hospital with the virus, 37 of whom are in intensive-care units — an increase from 146 and 36 the previous day, respectively. Active cases have climbed to 4,438, from 4,101 the previous day.
Alberta’s immunization rates continue to creep upward. Among all Albertans, 65.2 per cent have at least one dose, a number that increases to 76.7 per cent among those who are eligible. In total, 57.3 per cent of Albertans are fully immunized with both necessary doses, translating to 67.5 per cent of those who are eligible.
The City of Calgary leads the province in immunization rates, with 81.2 per cent of residents at least partially immunized. The City of Edmonton’s rate is 78.6 per cent, while the remainder of the province collectively lags behind at 70.5 per cent.
Alberta is backtracking on its plans to lift all containment measures against COVID-19 as hospitalization rates in the province surge.