Premier Jason Kenney says he remains confident in Alberta’s decision to lift COVID-19 safety measures — despite growing concerns from physicians.
Early Monday, the Alberta Medical Association section of pediatrics penned a letter to Kenney expressing grave concern over Alberta’s decision to eliminate COVID-19 testing and tracing, and its plan to end mandated isolation for positive cases on Aug. 16.
The group says there is no scientific evidence to support the decision as Alberta battles rising cases, particularly of the highly contagious Delta variant, first identified in India.
When asked about the letter, Kenney said his government stands by the advice from Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
“It’s hardly a revelation that there is a diversity of views in how best to address the COVID challenge,” Kenney said during an announcement about Alberta’s economy in Edmonton.
“We’ve accepted without modification the proposal of the chief medical officer for health, based on the extensive research of our public health officials on the new reality of COVID here in Alberta, and around the world, with the widespread protective effect of vaccines.”
Close contacts of individuals who test positive for COVID-19 are no longer required to isolate, nor are they notified by contact tracers. Come Aug. 16, infected Albertans will also not be required to quarantine.
Alberta currently has the highest active case count in Canada, followed by British Columbia.
Over the last three days, 1,017 new cases of COVID-19 were identified in Alberta, bringing the active case total to 3,380. The province is no longer offering asymptomatic testing, including of close contacts.
Hospitalizations also jumped by 16 over the three-day period. There are now 129 Albertans in hospital, 26 of whom are in intensive care.
The group of Alberta physicians says children and families — especially those who are front line workers, racialized or at a low socioeconomic status — are at particular risk if the province continues with its current strategy.
“There is no scientific basis to abandon these measures during the start of a fourth wave of the pandemic,” said the letter.
“As we near the start of the school year, a lack of mitigation and monitoring measures will result in a situation where the fourth wave will cause COVID-19 to spread quickly throughout unvaccinated populations and children.”
Only 56.5 per cent of Alberta’s total population is vaccinated — a statistic the group said is a stretch away from herd immunity and nowhere near the endemic phase of COVID-19, which Alberta’s Health Minister Tyler Shandro has previously said the province has been leading the way toward.
They outlined concerns about long-COVID in children, availability of pediatric intensive care beds and potential for children to develop serious illness, such as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome or severe COVID-19 pneumonia.
They are calling on the government to reinstate public health measures until 85 per cent of Albertans are vaccinated — the threshold for herd immunity.
If the government fails to do so, they said it is “an abdication of our responsibility to protect those who may not be in a position to protect themselves.”
On Monday, Alberta’s Opposition NDP also called on the United Conservatives to bolster protections for post-secondary students due to lower vaccination rates among that age group.
The NDP are asking the government to provide testing and personal protective equipment for students, faculty and staff, in addition to vaccination clinics at every institution come September.
—Alanna Smith, The Canadian Press