Blake Murdoch is an Edmonton-based senior research associate with the Health Law Institute.
Like many Albertans, my jaw hit the floor when I heard that Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw was ending the requirement for people who test positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate. We can all look forward to COVID-19-positive individuals being legally present everywhere, from busy grocery stores to stadiums filled with more than 15,000 people. Apparently superspreader events are now government endorsed.
The policy was announced at a time when the United States is widely reintroducing mask mandates, as are our neighbours in British Columbia while they try to contain outbreaks in the Okanagan. Some may have expected Dr. Hinshaw to introduce similar mask mandates, given quickly increasing case numbers and positivity rates in Alberta. Essentially, we got the opposite.
When I shared the news with two relatives, while sitting outside holding my baby boy, they refused to believe it until I showed them Dr. Hinshaw’s tweet. After confirming that her Twitter account had not been hacked and the news had also been announced at a live press conference, the sad reality set in.
“There’s not necessarily an analogous jurisdiction that’s made exactly the same decision” said Dr. Hinshaw when asked by a journalist, pointing to high vaccination rates as a justification for removal of self-isolation requirements. In fact, Alberta is lagging other provinces when it comes to the number of people who have received a first dose. Despite widespread talk about the percentage of eligible vaccinated people, about 35 per cent of Albertans – more than 1.5 million people – do not have a single shot of vaccine. These individuals are ripe for infection from Delta, which is far more infectious than any prior variant. It will spread like the wildfire that also plagues Western Canada. After all, Alberta’s R0 (transmissibility) value is already higher than it was at the peak of the third wave, aided by a lack of public-health measures.
Testing outside of clinics and hospitals is also set to stop on Aug. 31, meaning the provincial government will have little ability to track or manage outbreaks. A cynic would suggest that given Premier Jason Kenney has said there will be no more shutdowns – and given the growing number of cases linked to the much-hyped Calgary Stampede – the government’s response to rapidly increasing cases and positivity rates is to dismantle the provincial tracking system ahead of the fourth wave. Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated recently that fully vaccinated people should get tested after exposure, even if they don’t show symptoms.
Alberta’s new policy won’t just harm those who indefensibly refuse to be vaccinated and the smaller number of vaccinated individuals who experience breakthrough infections. It is also doing nothing to prevent our children from becoming sick. Some kids who get infected develop what’s referred to as “long COVID”: Data from the U.K. Office of National Statistics show that 10 per cent of children aged two to 11 years old, and 13 per cent of children aged 12 to 16, reported at least one lingering symptom five weeks after a positive diagnosis. Children can also develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome if they recover from the initial infection. The fourth wave will strain our health system, causing familiar delays and reductions in quality of care that will result in unnecessary harm and excess death.
The United Conservative Party government and their irredeemable yes-woman Dr. Hinshaw have committed to a path forward that will result in the reckless waste of human life. Even more will experience long-term disability. This policy is repugnant and shows a true disregard for Albertans.
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