Alberta’s top doctor takes stand during civil trial regarding response to COVID-19

Alberta chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, provides a COVID-19 update in Edmonton on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Alberta is reducing availability to COVID-19 testing as it deals with a rising wave of cases brought on by the Omicron variant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw maintains public health restrictions were necessary to protect the health-care system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She took the stand at a civil trial on Monday.

Several churches and individuals in Alberta filed a constitutional challenge against the province in December 2020, accusing the government of violating Albertans’ rights by imposing public health orders and restrictions at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The applicants claim the restrictions were unlawful and violated the province’s bill of rights and Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Hinshaw took the stand as the trial continued, spending much of the day being questioned by defence lawyer Leighton Grey.

Read more: About 60% of PCR-positive COVID-19 cases in Alberta are Omicron subvariant BA.2

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Throughout the hearing, Hinshaw said the COVID-19 response team was acting based on the information it had at the time. She said the team looked at experiences in Italy, New York and other “comparable jurisdictions” when drafting the public health restrictions and recommendations.

Hinshaw said mandatory measures significantly reduced cases in Alberta compared to voluntary measures. She acknowledged the impact restrictions had on the health of Albertans but said significant tradeoffs had to be made to protect the health-care system from collapsing.

There was no approach that would have resulted in no harm for Albertans, she said, adding that restrictions were only considered when the health-care system was dramatically threatened.

Read more: Canada headed towards 6th COVID-19 wave this spring, experts warn

During cross-examination by the defence counsel on Monday, Grey asked Hinshaw if she considered other options to reduce COVID-19 transmission.

He also asked questions about the public health restrictions on services and resources for youth and children, claiming there is “no scientific evidence” of a pandemic amongst young people.

Hinshaw said she tried to get voluntary compliance by putting out public health recommendations which were largely unsuccessful.

The restrictions were implemented after a cost-benefit analysis and the benefits outweighed the risks, she said.

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Read more: Alberta not currently considering 4th doses as COVID-19 wastewater levels rise

Hinshaw also said the risk of severe outcomes and death from COVID-19 is very small for children and young adults, but not zero.

Public health officials tried to mitigate the negative impacts of public health restrictions on young people, she said, including finding ways to keep them in school for as long as possible.

The trial will continue on Tuesday.

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