Alberta’s chief medical officer of health is apologizing for causing “confusion, fear or anger” after being informed of the province’s plan to lift remaining public health measures for COVID-19.
In a column sent to various media outlets on Wednesday, Dr. Dina Henshaw said her words had made some people believe she believed COVID-19 was over.
Henshaw says this was not her intended message.
Lifting precautions, including requirements for isolation, asymptomatic testing and contact tracing, will support the full health of Albertans by allowing the province to focus on other health threats, opioid deaths and syphilis, she said in the column.
Other “evil” problems
She said the isolation measures have been incredibly disruptive, and are no longer necessary thanks to vaccine protection.
Hinshaw also noted that the risk to the health of children, especially those under 12 who are not eligible for the vaccination, is low and should be considered among a range of other risks.
“Covid-19 is a sinister problem; experts do not always agree on the exact nature of the problem, let alone a better approach. But it is not the only sinister problem we face together,” she wrote.
Watch | Renewed concern about increasing cases, delta variable:
“In addressing these complex issues, it serves us best by trying to understand each other’s perspectives, engaging in respectful dialogue and further evaluating our approach.”
Close contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19 are no longer notified by contact tracers, nor are they required to isolate. From August 16, infected individuals will not be legally required to isolate either.
Prime Minister Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Chandro said lifting the restrictions was Henshaw’s idea and agreed with her plan. But the move has been criticized by medical experts across the country.
Dr. Joe Vibon, an emergency room physician in Calgary and co-founder of advocacy group Masks4Canada, described Hinshaw’s column as “a lack of apology.”
“She apologizes for the way it was communicated, not for the content of the policy,” Vibond told CBC News. “There remain serious concerns about this policy.”
Most Albertans want this to end, but that’s not the reality.– Dr. Joe Vibond
Vipond said some of Hinshaw’s arguments can be picked up easily, such as her view that dropping COVID-19 measures allows the county to better focus on other health concerns.
“If we let things go, we will deal with accelerating COVID and a big bad flu season. But if we take simple measures like mandatory concealment, we can really keep both things at bay,” he said.
Vibond said Albertans deserve data to help them make informed decisions about their risks.
“It seems very clear that our chief medical officer of health wants it to be over and wants to pretend there is nothing else to be done,” Vibond said.
“I would agree that most Albertans want this to end, but that is not the reality. We are in the fourth wave. Unless we put some mitigation measures on this exponential growth, we are in a world of harm.”
Alberta’s active case numbers, R-value and positivity rate have grown dramatically in recent days, and experts say the virus is now spreading in the province faster than it was during the third wave.
Dr. Quentin Durand Moreau, an occupational medicine specialist at the University of Alberta, said Henshaw’s comments about “fear” were not an appropriate way to deal with scientific controversy.
Durand Moreau said, “When you don’t agree, you’re not saying the other is worried. You address disagreement. You provide references to explain why you think this is the right way to go.”
Doctors ask for evidence
In an open letter earlier Wednesday, a group of 10 doctors from the Edmonton Area Medical Staff Association said Alberta went against advice from Health Canada, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
The letter also draws attention to the threats posed by the COVID-19 delta variant and the potential for child and adult intensive care units to be overwhelmed if Alberta continues its approach.
The group is asking the county to review existing data and provide sound evidence before weakening COVID-19 control measures.
“We are concerned about the rapid pace of these changes and that you have not provided any scientific data to Albertans to justify these unprecedented actions,” the letter read.
“There are frequent waves of COVID-19 variants moving around the world and we have not yet reached a safe state with a consistent low level of virus in our community.”
Although it’s rare for children to get seriously ill from COVID-19, the association said they are at risk of developing severe illness from multisystem inflammatory syndrome weeks after initially having a mild infection with COVID.
The letter was signed by Dr. Noel Gibney, a critical care physician in Edmonton. It was in the nature of the Alberta government to take risks, he said, but the last step it had taken was out of the question.
“Alberta residents aren’t immunized very well despite what they say,” Gibney said, noting that only 56 percent of all Albertans have been vaccinated. This leaves about two million people without complete protection.
He said Alberta would have been “swinging in” if it had only been battling COVID-19 and its less transmissible variants, but he noted that Delta is a different beast.
“It’s a remarkably effective pathogen.”