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Several pediatricians with the Alberta Medical Association are calling for stronger public health measures as children’s hospitals continue to feel the strain of several respiratory illnesses.

The executive members of the association’s pediatric section put out a statement to media and sent a letter Thursday to Dr. Mark Joffe, Alberta’s acting chief medical officer of health, to ask for ways to prevent the spread of the illnesses.

It recommends immediate measures such as increasing public messaging about the safety of vaccines, encouraging flu and COVID-19 vaccines, and temporarily requiring masks in schools.

“We’re just seeing kids with increased frequency and severity of illness, children who have been sick since the start of the school year,” Dr. Tehseen Ladha, one of the doctors, said in an interview from Edmonton.

“This feels like it has already been going on for three months, and it’s getting worse.”

Children’s hospitals across Canada have seen a surge in patients this fall, including those affected by COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

Health officials said Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary and the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton were still operating Thursday at about 100 per cent of their normal capacity, which they have been at or above for most of November and into December.

Alberta Health Services, which delivers health care in the province, set up a heated trailer outside the emergency department at the Calgary pediatric hospital last month to help with crowding and frigid weather conditions.

It also redeployed about 65 full- and part-time staff to the hospital earlier this month from a facility that provides respite care for chronically and terminally ill children, as well as five of its outpatient clinics.

Dr. Ladha said those strategies are helpful to deal with children who are already sick, but noted she would like to see some effort put into making sure children aren’t getting sick enough to require hospitalization.

“There’s really nothing in place right now to prevent illness,” she said.

Dr. Joffe’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment, but he sent a letter on Nov. 23 to parents recommending flu vaccines for children six months and older. He also encouraged masks, but added it was a choice that should be respected.

Dr. Joffe, also a senior executive with Alberta Health Services, has not spoken publicly since he was brought in as Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s replacement in mid-November. Dr. Hinshaw regularly held news conferences on public health concerns.

Another pediatrician, Dr. Kyle Mackenzie, said in the statement that stronger measures such as masking, air purifiers in schools and increased public messaging could provide much-needed relief for strained hospitals.

“These protections will help decrease the spread of multiple viral illnesses, including RSV, influenza and COVID-19, that are increasing at alarming rates in our community,” he said.

Dr. Sam Wong, president of the association’s pediatric section, added that vaccines decrease the chance of severe outcomes and hospitalizations in children.

“We are urging public health officials to provide increased messaging around the safety and efficacy of both influenza and COVID-19 vaccines for children, and to ensure accessibility to these vaccines for all populations.”