In his first media availability since Alberta announced it would be further easing COVID-19 measures, Premier Jason Kenney said the plan came from Dr. Deena Hinshaw and her team.
“This is something that she and her team in the public health branch of the department of health — all of them professional members of the permanent public service — developed over some time, presented it to our COVID cabinet committee I believe on July 8, and we accepted without modification the proposal that came forward from the chief medical officer of health, which is based on science and data, particularly on the powerful science and data behind the protective effect of the vaccines, which has, as she says, dramatically changed the context of COVID-19,” Kenney said on Tuesday.
Last Wednesday, the chief medical officer of health announced Alberta will soon have no mandatory COVID-19 measures like isolating, contact tracing or masking. It’s an approach that looks at treating COVID-19 like other respiratory viruses.
Close contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19 are no longer legally required to isolate, nor will they be notified by contact tracers.
And as of Aug. 16, people who test positive for COVID-19 won’t be required to isolate but it is strongly recommended.
Testing will also be curtailed. By the end of August, only those with severe symptoms will be tested.
Since the easements were announced, there have been daily protests, spearheaded by concerned physicians, at the Alberta legislature and at Calgary’s MacDougall Centre.
Kenney said Tuesday he understands the concern but this is “not a direction I asked (Hinshaw) to pursue.”
He said there has been a lot of emotion and understandable anxiety around the pandemic debate from the beginning, but these latest steps are based on data and science.
“This was a package of measures that came forward from the chief medical officer of health and her team. We respect their data-driven, scientific advice.”
The premier reiterated Hinshaw’s comments that the powerful protection offered by vaccines has “changed the nature of the province-wide risk of COVID.”
Kenney said it is time to shift from Alberta-wide extraordinary protective measures to more targeted and local measures.
He said legally mandating someone to stay home and isolate for 10 days after a positive test was an extraordinary measure and “only justified when the risk was unchecked.” With vaccine coverage, the risk has changed, he said.
“I think Dr. Hinshaw is concerned that anybody who might have minor symptoms of cold or flu, if all of them are automatically put on two weeks of self-isolation, that can be very disruptive,” the premier said.
“Also, I think she’s pointed out that there was essentially no enforcement of that particular legal requirement.
“But there remains a very strong recommendation for anybody who is symptomatic or obviously anybody who tests positive for COVID-19 to stay home.”
Kenney said Hinshaw believes Albertans generally don’t want to knowingly inflict harm on each other and that realizing staying home when sick “is the right thing to do” will be enough motivation to do so.
As of Aug. 3, there were 2,176 active COVID-19 cases reported in Alberta.
There were 90 people in hospital, 23 of whom were in intensive care.
Effectiveness of vaccines
As of Aug. 3, 76 per cent of Albertans 12 and older have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 65.8 per cent are fully vaccinated.
“These are levels that are almost unprecedented in the world. They’re a little behind the Canadian average but they’re well, well ahead of the international averages.”
The premier said cases are expected to go up and down, noting he anticipated they would rise when Alberta lifted restrictions, as other jurisdictions saw.
“Dr. Hinshaw and I both have said that we expect to see an increase of cases in the fall, based on seasonality, but that will likely be concurrent with an increase in flu and cold cases as well.
“But I am confident, we are confident… obviously, the powerful protective effect of the vaccine is a complete game-changer.”
Risks to kids in school
When asked about lifting testing, contact tracing and isolating protocols before kids head back to school in the fall, Kenney said the risks to children from COVID-19 are very low.
“We saw more children hospitalized in intensive care over the seven-month flu season in 2019-2020 than we have through the 17 months of COVID-19,” he said.
The premier said kids from five to 14 have a 140 per cent greater risk of going to the emergency department for a sports injury than for COVID-19.
“It’s important to recall that in Alberta, over the 17 months of the disease here, we have not reported a single COVID-related death for any Albertan under the age of 20.
“The vaccine coverage just reduces the chance of children becoming sick.”