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Criticism fired at province for not releasing data to support changing Alberta’s COVID-19 protocols

Click to play video: 'Alberta doctors frustrated, disappointed after town hall with Dr. Hinshaw' Alberta doctors frustrated, disappointed after town hall with Dr. Hinshaw
There was frustration and disappointment after Wednesday’s town hall between Alberta's top doctor and health-care professionals. One of the biggest points of contention was the province's inability to share data, which Dr. Deena Hinshaw said supports removing COVID-19 protocols. Julia Wong reports – Aug 19, 2021

Doctors and policy experts are criticizing the province for its delay in releasing scientific data and evidence it says justifies shifting Alberta’s approach to COVID-19.

The July announcement by the province to remove COVID-19 protocols — such as testing, tracing and isolating — was met with outcry from residentsCanada’s top doctors, as well as professional organizations such as the Alberta Medical Association and the Canadian Paediatric Society.

Last week, the protocols were extended until Sept. 27 to allow the province to monitor hospitalizations amid a rise in cases in the past few weeks.

On Wednesday night, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw told a town hall of healthcare professionals the information that explains why the province made the changes to the COVID protocols was not yet ready to be released; Global News heard a recording of the virtual meeting.

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READ MORE: Hinshaw says data that justified changing Alberta’s COVID-19 protocols still not public

Click to play video: 'Dr. Deena Hinshaw tells town hall data used to change Alberta’s COVID-19 protocols still not public' Dr. Deena Hinshaw tells town hall data used to change Alberta’s COVID-19 protocols still not public
Dr. Deena Hinshaw tells town hall data used to change Alberta’s COVID-19 protocols still not public – Aug 19, 2021

“The work that’s required isn’t just that list of articles. It’s trying to put it together into a narrative mode that helps explain not just to you as my peers, but to all Albertans, that list of considerations that was taken into account,” Hinshaw said.

Dr. Parker Vandermeer, a rural physician, said that he is not optimistic the data will ever be made be public.

“I was quite concerned last night when Dr. Hinshaw mentioned they have to form the narrative for how they’re going to present this information,” he said.

“As far as I’m concerned, scientific data should not need to be formed into a narrative to be presented.”

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He said physicians are capable of doing their own critical analysis of the information.

“If this information was ready six weeks ago for it to be presented to cabinet, for them to basically green light this all with no further questions or changes, I have to question why that data is not also ready for physicians to see now,” he said.

The province has made similar commitments to releasing data in the past that have yet to be followed through on, such as sector-specific transmission data.

Global News has reached out to Alberta Health for comment on the criticisms. The story will be updated if a response is received.

Click to play video: 'The politics behind Alberta’s COVID-19 protocol changes' The politics behind Alberta’s COVID-19 protocol changes
The politics behind Alberta’s COVID-19 protocol changes – Aug 13, 2021

“It’s been an issue throughout the pandemic. I really felt like we’re flying blind and being asked to basically act in blind faith for a lot of these recommendations,” Vandermeer said.

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“I think what’s so different about this one is it’s the first time we have majorly deviated from what experts around the world are recommending.

READ MORE: Canada’s top doctors say Alberta’s COVID-19 plan could have ripple effects across the country

“To make all these changes and also not to be able to present evidence to back that up is very concerning.”

The announcement by the province to remove testing, tracing and isolating was met with outcry from residentsCanada’s top doctors, as well as professional organizations such as the Alberta Medical Association and the Canadian Paediatric Society.

Dev Menon, a health policy professor at the University of Alberta, calls the situation a “vacuum of leadership.”

“When you make a statement certain decisions are being made on the basis of science and evidence, which is what people like us have been pushing them to do, yet they are reticent to produce it – it makes me wonder, was it ever there in the first place?” he said.

Menon questioned why the data is still not available to the public.

“Especially when there was enough clarity in the data for cabinet to make a decision…so what’s the problem?” he said.

He is concerned the credibility between the province and healthcare practitioners is going downhill.

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READ MORE: Alberta keeping COVID-19 measures for another six weeks

“You don’t know what to believe anymore and then it becomes you don’t believe anything anymore,” Menon said.

Zahid Butt, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Waterloo, said it is essential to have transparency in a public health emergency.

“A lot of important decisions are being made here, because you’re deciding on removing masks, you’re deciding on leaving out social distancing. There has to be a real evidence saying you can do all of these things,” he said

“Whether these decisions are politically correct or not, the decision should always be made on scientific evidence.”

Butt said the data should be shared with the public because Albertans are putting faith in public health leaders.

“You let people know this is happening and these are the limitations. But you share the data so that they know, at each step, how everyone is making those decisions because they impact a lot of our lives,” he said.

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