Alberta’s top doctor is apologizing for causing “confusion, fear or anger” after communicating the province’s plan to eliminate remaining COVID-19 public health measures.
In a column sent to various media outlets Wednesday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said her words have caused some people to think she believes COVID is over.
Hinshaw said that was not her intended message.
“We will not eliminate COVID, which means we need to learn how to live with it,” she writes.
“As vaccine coverage has changed the nature of the provincewide risk of COVID-19, it is time, in my opinion, to shift from provincewide extraordinary measures to more targeted and local measures.”
She said lifting isolation requirements, asymptomatic testing and eliminating contact tracing will support the whole health of Albertans by allowing the province to focus on other health threats, such as opioid deaths and syphilis.
Hinshaw added that isolation measures were incredibly disruptive and are no longer necessary with vaccine protection. About 66 per cent of eligible Albertans have been fully vaccinated.
She also noted the threat to children’s health, especially those under 12 who can’t get vaccinated, is low and should be considered among a range of other risks.
“COVID-19 is a wicked problem; experts don’t always agree on the exact nature of the problem, much less the best approach. But it is not the only wicked problem we are facing together,” Hinshaw said in the column.
Close contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19 are no longer being notified by contact tracers, nor are they required to isolate. Starting Aug. 16, infected individuals will no longer be legally required to isolate either.
Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro have said lifting the restrictions was Hinshaw’s idea and they agreed with her plan. But the move has come under fire from medical experts across the country.
In an open letter earlier Wednesday, a group of 10 physicians from the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association said Alberta is going against advice from Health Canada, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
The letter drew attention to threats posed by the COVID-19 Delta variant and the potential for pediatric and adult intensive care units to become overwhelmed should Alberta continue with its approach.
“We are concerned with the rapid speed of these changes and that you have provided no scientific data to Albertans to justify these unprecedented actions,” said the letter.
Although it is rare for children to become seriously ill with COVID-19, the association said they are at risk of becoming critically ill from Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome weeks after what initially appears to be a mild COVID infection.
The group also said Alberta’s pediatric intensive care beds could be easily overwhelmed, as they have in other jurisdictions because they are already operating at full capacity.
Dr. Noel Gibney, an Edmonton-based critical care physician, signed the letter. He said it is the Alberta government’s nature to take risks but its recent move is inconceivable.
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“Alberta does not have its population well vaccinated despite what they say,” said Gibney, noting only 56 per cent of Alberta’s total population is vaccinated. That leaves about two million people without full protection.
He said Alberta could have “squeaked by” if it were only battling COVID-19 and its less transmissible variants, but noted Delta is a different beast.
“It is a remarkably efficient pathogen.”
The association asked the province to review existing data and provide sound evidence before weakening COVID-19 control measures.