Former CEMA chief Tom Sampson criticizes Alberta’s COVID-19 response, says what he’d do if premier

Tom Sampson, former Calgary Emergency Management Agency chief, pictured in 2020. File/Global News

The man who led Calgary’s emergency response through the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic has advice for Premier Jason Kenney as the fourth wave hits hard.

It comes as Alberta currently has 269 total patients in the ICU on Tuesday, according to Alberta Health Services. Of those, 212 are patients with COVID-19.

Tom Sampson retired from his role as chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency in 2020. He said if he were premier right now, he would start by apologizing to Albertans and then announce a plan to fix it.

“Very publicly, I’d start out saying, ‘Sorry. It hasn’t gone the way we thought it would,’ and I’d stand up, I’d say it, and then I’d tell them what I’m going to do to correct it,” he told The Drive on 770 CHQR on Tuesday.

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Incentive has ‘low success rate’

The province is offering a $100 gift card to Albertans 18 or older if they get a first or second dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine between Sept. 3 and Oct. 14.

Sampson said he would start by cancelling the vaccine incentive program, implementing a system that requires proof of full vaccination to access non-essential services and providing regular updates to Albertans.

“One of the first corrective actions is I’d take away the $100 that we’re paying to people for vaccinations. It’s had a very, very low success rate. It’s a marginal increase in the number of people getting vaccinated,” he said.

“So you made the promise? That’s fine. Set a date and end it, and set a date quite early. I would have done it in five or six days, and after that date, it’s over.”

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According to Alberta Health, since the incentive was announced, 33,319 first doses were administered along with 35,570 second doses.

Immunization record

Collaboration is key, Sampson explained.

“Call B.C., call Quebec, whoever, Ontario, who has implemented some kind of immunization record or system. I hate it when people call it a vaccine passport because it makes it feel like it’s something different,” he said.

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“This is simply a record no different than the one I have sitting in my safe at home. It’s a yellow book that tells me when I had typhoid [vaccine] to go visit countries, and tell your staff to implement that right away. Then make it a requirement to have an immunization record for everything except the really essential matters.”

‘Hand on the pulse of the problem’

It is time to hear from folks in leadership roles and take aggressive action to bend the curve, Sampson said.

“People want to know that you have your hand on the pulse of the problem, and further, that together some tough action is required. I’ve always found if you don’t tell the public the story, they’ll make up their own narrative,” he said.

“We’ve seen that in some areas right now on COVID in a major way — the disinformation, the misinformation. We have a very real problem.”

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Sampson said the province should be leading by example rather than relying on municipalities to bring in their own public health measures.

“It’s not right to push municipalities into situations where they have to take action. This is a public health crisis, and responsibility for the public health lies with the province of Alberta, and so they shouldn’t be pushing municipalities and asking them to do these things,” he said.

“Quite frankly, they should be leading us and thanking the communities and municipalities for any support they provide.”

Click to play video: 'CEMA Chief Tom Sampson on what needs to be done to tackle second wave'
CEMA Chief Tom Sampson on what needs to be done to tackle second wave

‘Beyond the brink’

He said the province might be “beyond the brink” already and we can’t afford to wait any longer for action.

“There’s nothing more that I want than to end COVID and get back on our feet, have our businesses operate normally, have our economy not struggling anymore, get people back to work where they haven’t been, open our restaurants and bars,” he said.

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“I know I sound very political when I say these things, but this is what we need to do right now, and unfortunately, we’re headed in the exact wrong direction.”

Sampson said he spoke with an ICU doctor in his 30s this weekend and the physician said: “Tom, we can’t keep going like this.”

“I fear that when this is all over, we’ll look back and say, ‘Look at the toll it took cancelling elective surgeries… Look at the toll that took only because we weren’t prepared to crack down and ensure that more people were vaccinated,'” he said.

Global News reached out to Alberta Health for comment but has not heard back.

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