Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu sent an email to Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro to raise concerns about the province’s plan to stop contact tracing, to scale back testing, and to remove mandatory isolation for those who test positive for COVID-19.
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.
Effective Aug. 31, COVID-19 testing will no longer be available through assessment centres.
The email was sent to Shandro’s office on Aug. 1, a spokesperson for Alberta’s health minister said.
In the message, shared with Global News by an Alberta government spokesperson, Hajdu said she’s concerned with the province’s “recent pandemic management decisions.”
“In particular,” the federal minister wrote, “the announcement of Alberta’s intention to reduce contact tracing and remove mandatory isolation requirements for those who test positive for COVID-19 as of Aug. 16.”
“Although this decision falls squarely within your jurisdiction, experts from Alberta and around the country are voicing their significant concerns.
“I echo the Canadian Paediatric Society, who has called on you to recognize that this ‘unnecessary and risky gamble’ could worsen the spread of the virus and put children at risk.”
The Canadian Paediatric Society sent an open letter to Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, urging her to think twice about lifting isolation and testing requirements.
Nearly every day since Alberta’s announcement, there have been protests in Edmonton and Calgary, where doctors, other health-care professionals, teachers, parents and others have shared their frustration with the province’s direction.
In her letter, Hajdu pointed out that cases of COVID-19 are already increasing in Alberta as other public health measures were lifted and R-values are trending upwards.
“Our most recent modelling for Alberta forecasts a potentially more serious resurgence in cases in the coming weeks and months fuelled by the highly transmissible Delta variant.
“We have seen in previous waves that public health measures, including isolation and quarantine, are very important and effective tools for controlling resurgence. Indeed, these measures have saved lives.”
In an epidemiological context, Hajdu said she wants to hear the “public health rationale and scientific information” behind Alberta’s plan.
The federal minister agreed with Hinshaw — whom she called “highly respected” — that Canada’s vaccination campaign has changed the context of COVID-19, but said the pandemic is not over and “many remain unvaccinated, creating the potential for outbreaks” and a “Delta-driven resurgence.”
“It is now incumbent on all governments across Canada to exercise caution and vigilance, to keep everyone safe in our jurisdictions and neighbouring ones as well. We must all take reasonable steps to prevent future waves of COVID-19 and protect the health and economic and social wellbeing of all Canadians, especially our most vulnerable, including children under 12 years of age who cannot be vaccinated at this time,” Hajdu wrote.
Spokesperson Brett Boyden provided a statement on behalf of Alberta’s health minister in response to Hajdu’s letter.
“Dr. Hinshaw has been very clear on the sound medical reasoning behind her decisions, both in a lengthy press conference and in today’s op-ed,” Boyden said in the statement provided Wednesday.
“We will be sure to send both the transcript and op-ed to Minister Hajdu. Of course, Dr. Hinshaw also frequently communicates with her federal counterparts directly.
“In addition, we will reply to Minister Hajdu inquiring whether she has a view on her leader calling a nationwide election at this time — years before the Liberals’ mandate expires and without any non-confidence vote in Parliament.”
In a series of messages on Twitter Thursday, Shandro called the letter a political election move.
He described the federal government’s own COVID-19 response as “atrocious.”
“I find it disheartening that Ms. Hajdu would choose to play partisan games by rejecting scientific evidence for the purpose of scoring cheap political points,” Shandro wrote.
Both Shandro and Premier Jason Kenney have defended the plan to ease remaining measures, saying it was proposed by Hinshaw and her team, accepted by the COVID cabinet committee “without modification,” and is based on science and data.
On Wednesday, Hinshaw released an op-ed column to various Alberta media outlets, apologizing for the confusion, fear and anger caused by the way the changes were communicated and explaining the decision.
Hinshaw said her words have caused some people to think she believes COVID-19 is over. That was not her intended message, she wrote.
“We will not eliminate COVID, which means we need to learn how to live with it.”
“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.”
“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.