Members of Alberta government meet to discuss whether to keep COVID-19 protocols: sources

Click to play video: 'Alberta may extend pandemic restrictions after surge in COVID-19 cases: sources'
Alberta may extend pandemic restrictions after surge in COVID-19 cases: sources
WATCH ABOVE: Global News has learned that some members of the Alberta government met on Thursday to discuss the possible extension of current COVID-19 protocols. They were due to be lifted on Monday. Blake Lough reports. – Aug 12, 2021

Global News has learned that there was a meeting on Thursday involving some members of the provincial government where, among other topics, discussions included the possible extension of current COVID-19 protocols for an additional six-week period.

Those protocols, which include mandatory isolation for people with the disease, and widespread contact tracing and COVID-19 testing, are due to be lifted on Monday.

Alberta has been announcing hundreds of new COVID-19 cases every day for the past week.

READ MORE: Alberta’s COVID-19 positivity rate, hospitalizations, ICU admissions continue to climb Thursday 

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is scheduled to speak to Albertans on Friday morning. She is expected to talk about back-to-school health protocols.

The government has said the shift in its approach to COVID-19 was thought up by Hinshaw. The plan has drawn criticism and raised concern from the federal health minister, infectious disease experts, doctors, nurses, teachers and parents of children who are not old enough to be immunized against the disease.

Story continues below advertisement

It is not clear what prompted the undisclosed government members at Thursday’s meeting to consider backtracking on the move, however, the meeting occurred on the same day Dr. Theresa Tam, the chief public health officer of Canada, told reporters that data she has seen indicates the country is already dealing with a fourth wave of the pandemic.

READ MORE: Fourth wave of COVID-19 now underway in Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam says 

When Hinshaw announced the changes, she said Alberta was shifting from a pandemic response to an endemic response so the province could redeploy resources that had been occupied with COVID-19 to other pressing health issues. In the days that followed, daily protests were held in Calgary and Edmonton and both Hinshaw and the government faced a tsunami of criticism for embracing an approach that many believe will help spread the coronavirus, especially now that the more contagious Delta variant has become the dominant strain in Alberta.

READ MORE: Sparse COVID-19 data could lead Alberta to ‘fly blind’ in pandemic: experts 

Many doctors and public health experts have said they believe it will be difficult to deal with the pandemic without knowing how many people have COVID-19, where they are located and who they may have come into contact with.

Late Thursday afternoon, Opposition health critic David Shepherd responded to sources saying some members of Alberta’s government met to reconsider lifting COVID-19 protocols.

Story continues below advertisement

“(The government has been) forced to admit that COVID(-19) remains a threat,” reads part of a statement he issued in a news release. “Testing, tracing, and isolating are basic public health measures and Jason Kenney was ready to destroy these protections for his own political gain.”

The latest health and medical news emailed to you every Sunday.

“Congratulations to all the Albertans who knew Jason Kenney was wrong, and told him so.”

Shepherd noted Alberta currently leads all provinces and territories in Canada in active COVID-19 cases.

“We can’t have any more of these reckless blunders from Jason Kenney,” he said.

“I call on him to apologize to Albertans, and I call on him to promise that he will never again put his own political interests ahead of the public health of Albertans.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta may put plans to lift COVID-19 protocols on hold: sources'
Alberta may put plans to lift COVID-19 protocols on hold: sources

Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said if the government ends up putting its plan to lift COVID-19 protocols on hold, the decision will be in keeping with how he views its handling of the pandemic.

Story continues below advertisement

“It’s the right decision after doing the wrong decision,” he said. “We have seen that pattern over and over again throughout COVID, that the response is late in putting in restrictions, (and then) they are quick to remove them… and in this case, (possibly) backtracking.”

With the government saying it was Hinshaw’s recommendation to lift the COVID-19 protocols, Bratt said he will be curious to know whether she recommended not doing so as planned, if that’s what the province ends up doing.

“Almost the moment she announced that (COVID-19 protocols would be removed), there was massive pushback from all sorts of groups right across the province, and outside of the province,” he noted. “This led Dr. Hinshaw to publish an op-ed, do a media blitz… it sounds like the heat has gotten just too strong and (the increasing) case counts. There’s also been an increase in hospitalizations and ICUs.”

Bratt noted that when Alberta removed masking requirements and gathering limits on July 1, there was broad support from the public for doing so.

“We saw that with people going to the Calgary Stampede and going to restaurants — we don’t see masks anymore,” he said. “But removing evidence, removing data, that seemed to be one step too far.”

READ MORE: ‘I wasn’t clear’: Hinshaw not happy about how Alberta’s eased COVID-19 response was shared 

Dr. Craig Jenne, an infectious diseases researcher at the University of Calgary, said he believes if the government decides to press pause on the lifting of current COVID-19 protocols, it’s likely “a very strong commentary on those rising cases.”

Story continues below advertisement

“And perhaps an indication that cases are rising more quickly than anticipated, or that hospitalizations and ICU admissions are not as uncoupled from the cases as we had hoped,” he told Global News.

With nine out of 10 people hospitalized in Alberta right now not fully vaccinated, Jenne said evidence for the efficacy of vaccines continues to mount.

“But given that there is a substantial portion of the province that is not vaccinated, that is a large target population for the virus,” he said.

“It is important to try and limit the spread as much as possible until everybody who can be vaccinated is vaccinated, and we are seeing a bit of a lag in that here in Alberta.”

Jenne pointed out that the results of clinical trials looking at the effects of COVID-19 vaccines on children are expected in the fall. He said if vaccination for children under 12 is deemed to be safe and moves forward, the development could be a “game-changer” in the pandemic.

“Kids can catch this… although their risk is much lower,” Jenne said.

“I think most other jurisdictions around the world are looking at continuing testing and in particular, requirements for isolation when people test positive, especially given that there are variants and potential new variants,” he added. “Getting quality data — getting comprehensive data — is really an absolutely critical tool to understanding how the virus moves through the community, how quickly it’s spreading, and really, it’s the lead indicator we need.”

Story continues below advertisement

Jenne suggested that an approach of just looking at hospitalization numbers rather than case numbers could be problematic because hospitalization numbers don’t tend to become evident until weeks after there are surges in case numbers.

“So, we really do need that upfront testing in order to get ahead of this to be able to understand what’s happening in the community, and critically, what steps may need to be taken to slow that spread.”

Watch below: Some recent Global News videos about the COVID-19 situation in Alberta.

Sponsored content