Published: August 4, 2021
A group of Edmonton physicians is calling on the Alberta government to slow down its plan to abandon masking, testing, tracing, isolation measures for COVID-19 across the province.
Ten doctors representing the Edmonton Zone Medical Association’s pandemic committee penned a public letter to Premier Jason Kenney Wednesday urging the government to stick with its current public health measures until more evidence can be reviewed and shared with the public.
“We are concerned with the rapid speed of these changes and that you have provided no scientific data to Albertans to justify these unprecedented actions,” the letter says.
The missive came before the province reported 206 new cases Wednesday. With 2,282 active cases, Alberta has the highest number of active cases in the country. Hospitalizations rose to 97, including 23 in intensive care, from a total of 90 as of Tuesday’s update.
More than 5.3 million doses of vaccine have been administered in the province, with 76.1 per cent of the eligible population vaccinated with one dose, and 66 per cent fully vaccinated.
The doctors’ letter echoes some of the same concerns expressed by the president of the Alberta Medical Association Paul Boucher in a public letter last week about the pace at which public health measures are ending, but it adds that Alberta’s measures run counter to the advice of the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Canada and the World Health Organization.
Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro have said chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw proposed removing the measures and the government approved her plan.
In a column sent to media outlets Wednesday, Hinshaw apologized for causing “confusion, fear or anger” in the way the plan was communicated.
Hinshaw said she did not intend to convey that COVID-19 is over, but said the latest changes will support the overall health of Albertans.
“COVID-19 is a wicked problem; experts don’t always agree on the exact nature of the problem, much less the best approach. But it is not the only wicked problem we are facing together,” Hinshaw wrote, adding that public health resources need to be directed at other threats, like syphilis and opioid deaths.
While the group of doctors warn of the disabling symptoms of “long COVID-19,” and say the removal of the face masking mandate on public transit on Aug. 16, combined with the return to school in September without masking rules, will speed up the spread of the highly-contagious Delta COVID-19 variant, Hinshaw did not specifically address masking or long COVID.
The doctors recognize that vaccines are effective, but say the province’s pediatric intensive care units are already operating at 100 per cent capacity and could be overwhelmed by a large number of serious illnesses in children under the age of 12 who are ineligible for vaccines.
Meanwhile, Opposition NDP labour critic Christina Gray said Wednesday COVID-19 testing, tracing and isolation are the “bare minimum the provincial government can do,” saying without them workers who become ill will be at risk of losing federal sick pay, workers’ compensation and other supports.
Protests at the legislature in Edmonton over the province’s plan continued for the sixth day in a row Wednesday.