Several doctors from Calgary and Edmonton say public-health restrictions introduced by the Alberta government will not be enough to reduce the spread of COVID-19 during the province’s third wave.
Premier Jason Kenney brought back tougher restrictions Tuesday that include shutting down indoor dining in restaurants, curbing indoor fitness and reducing retail capacity.
He said Alberta is on track to have 2,000 new infections a day and 1,000 people in hospital with COVID-19 by the end of April, and that the third wave is being driven by variants.
Dr. James Talbot, a University of Alberta professor and co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s COVID-19 committee, said the measures will help but not in a significant way.
“It’s not enough to bring the numbers down,” he said Wednesday during a Zoom news conference with several other doctors.
“They’ll rise more slowly, but they are not going to come down.”
The Easter long weekend saw an average of about 1,000 new COVID-19 cases a day in the province. There were 931 new infections reported Tuesday.
About 43 per cent of Alberta’s 10,000 active cases were the more contagious and potentially more dangerous variants.
There were 328 people in hospital with the illness, including 76 in intensive care.
The death toll in the province surpassed 2,000.
Dr. Craig Jenne, an infectious disease expert at the University of Calgary, said Alberta has the most active cases per capita of any province in Canada. The province also has the most confirmed cases of variant infections in the country, he said.
“Targeted restrictions are going to be ineffective.”
Two doctors who work in Calgary and Edmonton hospitals said they are seeing the results first-hand.
Dr. Daniel Niven, a physician in the intensive care unit at the Peter Lougheed hospital in Calgary, said people who catch the variants are more likely to be hospitalized, end up in the ICU and even die.
“These severe outcomes are observed among young, healthy individuals,” said Niven, who note he has had patients between 20 to 60 years old with no pre-existing health conditions.
The increase in variant cases is also increasing wait times in emergency departments, said Dr. Shazma Mithani, who works at the Royal Alexandra Hospital and Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton.
“That has a profound effect on the ability to see patients who need care,” she said.
Dr. Gosia Gasperowicz, a developmental biologist with the faculty of nursing at the University of Calgary, said the variants have been getting worse. Cases related to the more contagious variant first identified in the United Kingdom are doubling in Calgary every week, she said.
“It’s taking over… and the growth rate is very consistent, doubling every six to seven days.”
She said cases during the second wave in the fall were doubling every two to 2 1/2 weeks.
Gasperowicz said it would take a shutdown similar to one last spring to even start bending the curve downward.
“To really substantially and quickly bend the curve and reduce the daily new cases, we would need restrictions the strength of New Zealand, Australia — basically full financially supported lockdown.
“The measures from winter won’t be enough to bend downward the variant curve.”
Mithani, who’s also a member of the Calgary and Area Medical Staff Society/Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association, agreed it’s time for more action.
“All levels of government need to take action to prevent a higher peak in this third wave,” she said.
“Our group of doctors is calling for a circuit-breaker or full lockdown for a period of several weeks in order to bend the curve effectively but also bring community transmission down significantly,” she said Wednesday.
“Close all non-essential services, encourage people to stay at home, only have contact with their household or their designated cohort, to limit exercise to only outdoors, no indoor exercise, no in-person dining — whether that’s indoors or on patios — and also have increased enforcement from AHS.”
She said the graphs the premier displayed during his update on Tuesday showed how effective stricter health measures were in curbing rising case numbers during the second wave in mid-December.
“Those visual graphs are a great way to illustrate that weaker measures don’t do as much when we’re in an exponential growth phase. We need strong measures in those situations to prevent a higher peak from happening and also to start declining the cases rapidly,” Mithani said.
“The difference between the second wave and this wave, however, is the variants of concern. We’re already seeing the slope of that rise… is much more rapid and that’s all driven by the variants of concern.”
— With files from Emily Mertz, Global News