The Alberta chief health officer now says the controversial rise of the province to all public health restrictions COVID-19 in early July set the trajectory for the fourth blast wave that pushed its healthcare system to the breaking point.
Dr Deena Hinshaw also said in a meeting with Zoom with Primary Care Network doctors on Monday said she “deeply” regrets her contribution to a story that “COVID is over”.
A video of the meeting was posted on YouTube before it was set to be private Tuesday morning.
In May, Prime Minister JasonKenney promised “the best summer ever” for Albertans as he announced the government’s tripartite plan to be the first and most open province in Canada by July 1.
All restrictions were lifted, including a ban on internal social gatherings and the general mandate of the inner province mask, although the province maintained isolation requirements for confirmed COVID-19 cases and some safeguards in continuing care settings.
That paved the way for a fourth massive wave, Hinshaw admitted at Monday’s meeting.
“I think the trajectory was set when we removed all public health restrictions in early July,” Hinshaw said.
“If you look at the experiences of all the different provinces across the country, the ones that have maintained at some basic level the constraints to manage interactions and close contacts are the ones that are not seeing significant impact.
“And those of us who removed them are the ones who saw a huge increase in some of these acute care impacts.”
“We have a crisis,” says Hinshaw
During the meeting, Hinshaw said Alberta Health Services (AHS) catches about one in four new cases of COVID-19 through PCR testing so far.
“This is not an indication of PCR sensitivity[testing], is primarily an indication of how many patients do not go for testing at all, even when they feel ill, “Hinshaw said.
Reported COVID-19 cases in Alberta increased in August and September, with the province now leading the country in new daily cases and total active cases.
As of Monday, there was18,395 active cases in Alberta, the highest nationwide. By comparison, Ontario, a province with more than three times the population, has one-third the number of active cases.
It has put the biggest pressure on the Alberta healthcare system so far in the pandemic, with about 800 people being treated in hospital since Monday 200 of them in intensive care units.
Modeling by AHS taken from CBC New suggests that, by early October, there may be up to 365 patients in need of the current 286 ICU province beds.
Many doctors have warned that the health care system is already faltering under the weight of ICU requirements.
The fourth wave has also reduced levels of care and canceled surgeries for non-COVID patients.
Albertas waiting for procedures such as kidney transplants and brain cancer surgeries have recently seen their surgeries postponed.
“We have a crisis, that’s clear,” Hinshaw said Monday night. “I think everyone knows this well.”
Hinshaw regrets the COVID narrative
Hinshawalso said the messages that emerged from the decision to lift the restrictions have made it difficult to restore public health measures.
“I feel very responsible for the confession that has made it more complicated to try to impose additional public health measures, because whether or not it was my goal, what was heard at the end of July was,” COVID concluded. We can go away and ignore it, “Hinshaw said.
“It has had consequences and I am very sorry how it worked.”
In some cases, that story was reinforced by the provincial government.
On June 2, for example, Matt Wolf, executive director of case management for the prime minister, wrote on Twitter: “The pandemic is over. Accept it.”
On June 18, Kenney suggested that health experts and journalists warning of a fourth wave were “spreading fear.”
“People will get infected. Some people will get sick,” Kenney said.
“Unfortunately, some people are likely to die, as has always happened with the flu, but we do not close society to deal with that kind of limited and controllable risk. We manage the risk. Vaccines give us a “superpower to manage it. Let ‘s embrace it.”
Vaccine passports ‘have an impact,’ says Hinshaw
Kenney has also consistently rejected calls for vaccination requests, which are increasingly common in other provinces when it comes to accessing bars, restaurants, gyms and other public places.
But Hinshaw said Monday that it is “quite clear” vaccine passports have an impact.
In BC, she said, there was a clear increase in vaccine intake in younger age groups within two weeks of her vaccination announcement.
People aged 30 to 39 saw an increase of nearly three percent, while intake by those aged 18 to 29 increased by over four percent, Hinshaw said.
“I think it is very clear that demands, especially on discretionary activities can have an impact on those age groups where we need it most now to increase our involvement,” she said.
Hinshaw also said she thinks it is “very reasonable” to have children wearing masks in schools.
She said she believes in a strong body of evidence suggesting that regular use of the mask is an important factor in controlling COVID, and implied that the decision to end their use in schools was not hers.
“Unfortunately masks have become one of those lightning rod issues for which people are very divided,” she said.
“You know, I make a set of recommendations, and then those recommendations are taken into account, and decisions are made by others.”
The province responds
Asked for a response to Hinshaw comments, Alberta Tyler Shandro’s press secretary Steve Buick said Hinshaw had repeated what had previously been shared with the public.
“[Hinshaw] gave her colleagues the same assessment she gave to the media and the public at a press conference last week: her advice that we move from pandemic to endemic was premature, including the decision to remove all broad restrictions, Buick told CBC News by email.
“This decision was based in part on evidence from the UK, but the virus has affected Alberta differently than we expected at the time. That press conference was widely reported.”
Buick did not specifically address Hinshaws’ statements about disguise, vaccine passports or the consequences of messages that “COVID is over”.
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