Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health now says the province’s controversial lifting of all public health restrictions related to COVID-19 in early July set the course for the explosive fourth wave that pushed its system health at breaking point.
Dr Deena Hinshaw also said in a Zoom meeting with doctors in the primary care network on Monday that she “deeply” regretted her contribution to a story that “COVID is over.”
A video of the meeting was posted to YouTube before it was set as private on Tuesday morning.
In May, Premier Jason Kenney promised the “best summer ever” for Albertans by announcing the government’s three-part plan to become Canada’s first and most open province by July 1 .
All restrictions have been lifted, including a ban on social gatherings inside and the general mandate of the provincial mask indoors, although the province has retained isolation requirements for confirmed cases of COVID-19 and some protective measures in continuing care facilities.
This paved the way for a massive fourth wave, Hinshaw acknowledged at Monday’s meeting.
“I think that 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 retained some restrictions at the grassroots level to handle interactions and close contact are the ones that don’t see the significant impact.
“And those of us who have removed them are the ones who have seen the very large and significant increase in some of these impacts on acute care.”
“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 thanks to PCR testing to date.
“This is not an indication of the sensitivity of PCR [testing], it’s mostly an indication of how many patients do not take the test at all, even when they feel sick, ”Hinshaw said.
Reported cases of COVID-19 in Alberta skyrocketed in August and September, with the province now leading the country in new daily cases and total number of active cases.
From Monday there was 18,395 active cases in Alberta, the highest nationally. By comparison, Ontario, a province with more than three times the population, has one-third of the number of active cases.
It has put the greatest strain on Alberta’s health care system to date in the pandemic, with around 800 people treated in hospital on Monday, including 200 in intensive care units.
AHS modeling obtained by CBC News suggests that by early October there could be as many as 365 patients needing the province’s current 286 ICU beds.
Many doctors have warned that the healthcare system is already crumbling under the weight of demands for intensive care.
The fourth wave also led to reduced levels of care and the cancellation of surgeries for non-COVID patients.
Albertans awaiting procedures such as kidney transplants and brain cancer operations recently had their surgeries postponed.
“We have a crisis, that’s clear,” Hinshaw said Monday night. “I think everyone is well aware of this.”
Hinshaw regrets ‘COVID over’ story
Hinshaw also said the message that emerged from the decision to lift the restrictions made it difficult to reintroduce public health measures.
“I feel very responsible for the narrative that made the attempt to put in place additional public health measures more complicated, because whether or not that was my intention, what was heard at the end of July was’ COVID is over. We can walk away and ignore it, ”Hinshaw said.
“It had repercussions… and I deeply regret the way it turned out.”
In some cases, this narrative has been reinforced by the provincial government.
On June 2, for example, Matt Wolf, the Prime Minister’s executive director of issues management, tweeted, “The pandemic is ending. Accept it.
On June 18, Kenney suggested that health experts and reporters warning of a fourth wave “is spreading fear.”
“People will be infected. Some people will get sick,” Kenney said.
“Unfortunately, a few people are probably going to die, as has always been the case with influenza, but we don’t stop society to deal with this kind of limited and controllable risk. We manage the risk. Vaccines give us a super power to handle it. Let’s accept that. “
Vaccine passports ‘have an impact’, says Hinshaw
Kenney has also repeatedly rejected calls for vaccination requirements, which are increasingly common in other provinces when it comes to access to bars, restaurants, gyms and other public places.
But Hinshaw said Monday it was “pretty clear” that vaccine passports were having an impact.
In British Columbia, she said, there was a marked increase in vaccination among younger age groups within two weeks of the vaccination card being announced.
People aged 30 to 39 saw an increase of almost 3%, while participation among those aged 18 to 29 increased by more than 4%, Hinshaw said.
“I think it’s pretty clear that the requirements, especially for discretionary activities, can impact the age groups where we need it most right now to increase our usage,” he said. she declared.
Hinshaw also said she thought it was “very reasonable” to have children wearing masks in schools.
She said she believed in a strong body of evidence suggesting that the regular use of masks was an important factor in controlling COVID, and implied that the decision to end their use in schools was not the order of the day. his.
“Sadly, masks have become one of those lightning rod issues that… people are very divided,” she said.
“You know, I provide a series of recommendations and then those recommendations are taken into account and decisions are made by others.”
When asked about a response to Hinshaw’s comments, Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s press secretary Steve Buick said Hinshaw reiterated 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 are moving from pandemic to endemic was premature, including the decision to drop all general restrictions, ”Buick told CBC News via email.
“This decision was based in part on evidence from the UK, but the virus hit Alberta differently than we expected at the time. This press conference was widely reported.”
Buick did not specifically address Hinshaws’ statements about masking, vaccine passports, or the impact of the “COVID is over” message.