Several Alberta doctors are reacting to the province’s plan to loosen its COVID-19 surveillance and management system despite increasing case numbers, positivity rate and R-value, and vaccination rates that lag behind other provinces.
As of Thursday, quarantine of close contacts is no longer mandatory but only recommended. Contact tracers will not notify close contacts, but will continue to investigate cases in high-risk settings such as continuing care facilities. Asymptomatic testing will no longer be recommended.
On August 16, it is planned to reduce the rules:
- You will not be required to isolate if you test positive for COVID-19, but isolation will still be highly recommended.
- Isolation and quarantine support hotels will no longer be available.
- Testing will be available to people who show symptoms only when needed to help make direct patient care decisions.
- After August 31, COVID-19 testing will only be available to patients whose symptoms are severe enough to need care in hospitals or doctors’ offices.
- Masking will not be required in schools.
- Masks will not be required on public transportation and in most continuing care facilities.
Dr Nega Bakshi, who worked in the COVID unit at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton during the pandemic, says she is concerned the changes will have horrific results.
“The medical community is completely gas-lit at the moment,” she said. “The idea that in a couple of weeks we can be done with this when we know we’re not, is irresponsible.”
Bakshi said she believes that abandoning testing, isolation and contact tracing will lead to preventable deaths.
“Take it all away – if the first time we know you have COVID is when we intubate you, that’s a problem,” she said.
Demonstrations in Calgary, Edmonton
Members of the medical community unhappy with the boycott plan staged demonstrations in the Alberta legislature in Edmonton and outside the county offices at McDougall Center in Calgary at noon on Friday.
Speaking at the gathering in Calgary, Dr. Joe Vibon, emergency physician and co-founder of Masks4Canada advocacy group, called Dr. Dina Henshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, to resign.
“Like everyone else,” he said, “I wanted to believe that Dr. Henshaw was in our best interest.”
“But if I sign in your name a document saying that I will expose every Albertan, including all our children, to unknown perils, I’m afraid she needs to resign. I don’t know what else.”
Vibond says the county is facing a historic moment and officials will have to respond to their decisions.
“The scary thing is that we haven’t had a single public health official resign in response to this. We haven’t received a single resignation from the MLA as a reason for that,” he said, adding that he’s come to believe that there are “classes and layers and layers of badness” driving policy decisions.
“So all I can think of is we’re out, saying it’s not true, you’re not going to do it in our county.”
Dr. Gabriel Fabro, who also treats COVID-19 patients and teaches general internal medicine at the University of Calgary, said the more contagious delta variant remains a threat.
“Dismantling the infrastructure for testing or monitoring and relying on hospitalizations only as indications – that leaves us blind and isolated,” he said.
Fabro said he expects the delta variant to tear apart vulnerable communities.
He said, “I’m worried.”
Fabro said he is concerned that allowing the virus to spread unchecked may open the door to new variables.
“If we’re the province that lets it rip, we’re increasing the risk of the ‘Alberta’ variant. Do we really want that?”
The Minister of Health said that the decision was not political
Alberta’s health minister, Tyler Chandro, said he was sticking to the decision to scale back public health measures, which he noted was not politically motivated, but brought up by Henshaw.
“We have a lot of different opinions in the medical community, and that’s to be expected and that’s encouraging,” he said.
Dr. Daniel Gregson, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Calgary, said Thursday that the government’s decision to end mandatory isolation was irresponsible.
“The message we’re sending is that if you have COVID, or think you might have a COVID infection, you can do whatever you want,” he said. “I don’t agree with that.”
Gregson said a fourth wave is inevitable, especially among young and healthy individuals.
“We’ll see a bump in our hospitalization. The question is, how much?”
Dr Howard Ngo, Canada’s deputy public health official, said that as rules change from one jurisdiction to another, provinces may need to consider taking steps to protect their citizens.
“I think everybody is alive with the fact that there can be … spillovers on other provinces and territories — with travel within Canada, you know, where the residents of one province go to another province. Obviously, in this case, we’re looking at to Alberta.
“Other provinces and territories will have to do and understand what is most appropriate in their context for their residents and protect … the public health and health care system within their provinces.”
Dr Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said it was up to the provinces to decide on their own health measures, but she still strongly encouraged people in Alberta who contract COVID-19 to self-isolate, even if they were not authorized by the province. .
“I would like to ask anyone who has been diagnosed with, or thinks they might have, COVID-19, please isolate, please get tested and inform your close contacts,” she said.
Sarah Fortune, chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, told CBC’s active radio She thinks Alberta’s plan is good.
“I think Alberta is taking reasonable steps in the face of doing a good job in lowering viral numbers and in the face of good vaccine coverage,” she said.
“I don’t think Albertans, where they have achieved more than 70 percent of vaccine coverage, need to believe that they are going to be the next state of Louisiana, where the vaccine coverage is much lower.”
active radio7:30Should we move to an endemic response
Fortune warned that the global community is not out of the woods yet, and said the playing field can always change as new and dangerous variables emerge.
But she said that since the long-running pandemic has taken such a heavy toll on society, it is important to take steps like those now being implemented in Alberta.
“In fact, it’s so important for us as individuals to build on your successes, and the successes of your public health system, and to live a little,” Fortune said.
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