Fall traditionally brings with it an uptick in respiratory illnesses and 2023 is no exception. While other jurisdictions in Canada are bringing back masking in some health-care settings, Alberta is standing firm on leaving the choice up to individuals.
“Alberta’s government has been clear in the past, we will not be mandating masks for Albertans,” Ministry of Health press secretary Charlotte Taillon said in a statement to Global News on Thursday.
“In cases where there are COVID-19 outbreaks in health-care facilities like long-term care, we expect people to take precautions and protect themselves and others. That may mean staying home, rescheduling visits or wearing a mask.”
Royal Alexandra Hospital intensive care physician Dr. Darren Markland said the province is offloading responsibility onto individuals.
“It works for some things, but it doesn’t work for public health and infectious diseases,” Markland said Friday. “This is the entire problem that we had during the pandemic, was that everybody had to do the right thing — if some people didn’t, then the disease spread and the same thing exists during respiratory season.”
Markland said it seems the health ministry is making decisions based on politics, not health policy, and advises Albertans to follow common sense to prevent illnesses.
“You only have to watch the interviews that are coming out between our health minister, our interim CMOH, to say that these are very awkward interviews and people aren’t saying the things that are expected to come from health-care professionals.
“There is a certain peril about going and doing the right things that are politically unsavoury.”
The statement from Alberta Health came on the same day Health Minister Adriana LaGrange announced 20 people have died from COVID-19 in the span of 20 days in the province.
“Since Sept. 3, there have been 21 confirmed cases of RSV. We’ve recorded 52 cases of influenza, resulting in 10 hospitalizations and no admissions to intensive care units or deaths. This is consistent activity for this time of year,” LaGrange said.
“For COVID-19, from Sept. 3 to Sept. 23 there were a total of 1,470 cases and 286 hospitalizations, with 13 ICU admissions. Sadly, 20 Albertans died during that period due to COVID-19.”
Markland said as expected, hospitals in Edmonton are seeing quite a few COVID-19 cases and some RSV, and are preparing for influenza — that virus doesn’t generally peak until later in the winter.
The physician said deaths from respiratory diseases is expected among a segment of the population, especially the frail and immunocompromised.
“I think the way that we should deal with respiratory viruses is very similar to how we dealt with COVID. This brings up the ongoing argument about masking and prior to COVID, we didn’t have a lot of evidence that it that it was beneficial — and now we have more and more,” he said.
He said in order to keep vulnerable patients safe, masks are a wise move.
“Within hospitals — and I’m not asking for general masking — but I think at the very least where we have immunocompromised people, we need to do the best as we can as health care professionals for people who can’t mask,” Markland said.
“Universal masking in a hospital is a way to not completely prevent it, but at least mitigate a lot of the risk that happens when you put a lot of sick people into a small area.”
The B.C. government announced earlier this week it is reinstating masks at all health-care settings across the province.
On Friday, several hospitals in Ontario announced they are following suit: some will require staff to wear masks and others expanding it to include anyone inside the facilities.
Taillon said the Alberta government wants to “empower local decision making” and this may mean that in the future, individuals operators make decisions based on individual circumstances.
Alberta Health Services said it had nothing to add on to what the ministry said.