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Alberta Opposition presses health officials over pandemic response

Click to play video: 'Alberta health officials questioned about province’s response to COVID-19' Alberta health officials questioned about province’s response to COVID-19
WATCH ABOVE: Alberta health officials faced tough questions from MLAs on Tuesday. At a legislative committee meeting, they were pressed on issues related to the province's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Breanna Karstens-Smith reports – Nov 23, 2021

Alberta MLAs from both sides of the aisle had the opportunity Tuesday morning to ask health officials detailed questions about the province’s COVID-19 pandemic response.

Read more: Alberta surgical patients may wait months for care after COVID-19 delays

Officials, including chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu, appeared in front of the Public Accounts Committee.

Read more: Alberta’s COVID-19 surge a cautionary tale. Vaccines alone ‘won’t be fast enough’: Tam

MLA Rakhi Pancholi pressed Hinshaw on a FOIP obtained by the NDP. It includes a Sept. 2, 2020 email from an AHS official to an Alberta Health official.

“We are getting multiple requests internally from AHS for COVID-19 projections for the next six months and beyond. I wanted to know if AH is doing any modelling work so that we can avoid any duplication,” wrote Hussain Usman with AHS.

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Click to play video: 'Alberta COVID-19 modelling projects continued spike in ICU admissions this month' Alberta COVID-19 modelling projects continued spike in ICU admissions this month
Alberta COVID-19 modelling projects continued spike in ICU admissions this month – Sep 7, 2021

“There is some modelling-related work I’m aware of, but nothing planned regarding projections. This is purposeful: we’ve been advised not to pursue projections as there are too many uncertainties,” Alberta Health’s Amy Colquhoun responded.

“Given that the outcomes of such work may not be supported by all leadership, I would suggest not pursuing this work yourselves.”

Read more: Alberta to adjust COVID-19 masking, isolation, testing rules over next month

Click to play video: 'Pandemic to endemic: Dr. Hinshaw shares evidence that led to shift in COVID-19 approach' Pandemic to endemic: Dr. Hinshaw shares evidence that led to shift in COVID-19 approach
Pandemic to endemic: Dr. Hinshaw shares evidence that led to shift in COVID-19 approach – Sep 3, 2021

Pancholi asked Hinshaw who advised staff not to pursue such projections.

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Hinshaw responded that there is a difference between projections and modelling and that longer-term projections are often unreliable.

Yiu admitted projections are valuable.

“It gives us sort of anticipated numbers that we could project out for both in-patient capacity as well as ICU capacity, and we use those projections to always stay ahead,” the AHS CEO said.

Read more: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney denies scapegoating chief medical officer for COVID-19 failures

When pressed, both Hinshaw and Yiu said they were not aware who would have advised staff not to pursue projections.

“I’m sorry, I don’t have that specific information,” Hinshaw answered.

Read more: COVID-19 ICU admissions slam Alberta hospitals; Hinshaw says ‘the move to endemic was too early’

MLA Marlin Schmidt asked Hinshaw what lessons she and her staff learned from the second wave of the pandemic that they then used going into the third wave.

Hinshaw responded that they discovered each wave is not entirely preventable as the virus has mutated. She said the importance of reopening cautiously was one realization.

“I think we were hoping for some more direct answers from Dr. Hinshaw, and really, from the same questions we’ve been asking this government for some time,” Pancholi said after the meeting.

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UCP MLA Searle Turton disagreed.

“Obviously there’s a lot of public scrutiny about how our government and AHS has been handling the pandemic up to this point, and I’m satisfied with the answers put forth by AHS as well as the chief medical officer of health this morning,” he told Global News.

On spending, the NDP asked questions about $250 million that was set aside for improvements to schools to keep kids safe from the virus.

A previous committee meeting heard 18 per cent of the funding was spent on ventilation.

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman suggested school boards would have spent more on improving ventilation if they had been directed to do so by the education minister.

“Many of the boards that I’ve talked to said that they just went with projects that were the fastest to move on, so many of those capital projects were things like windows and roofs and things that they’ve known for years needed to be improved,” Hoffman explained.

Hinshaw confirmed Tuesday she did provide guidance to the province that included a suggestion that ventilation in schools could be an important measure.

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