Test-Trace-Isolate is the age-old public-health mantra. It’s what every country, province and local government has tried to do in the fight against COVID-19. It’s what successful places such as Atlantic Canada, which managed to keep a lid on the virus even before the development of vaccines, did and did well.
When fighting a pandemic, public-health experts tend to put Test-Trace-Isolate somewhere between highly useful and totally indispensable.
So it came as a bit of surprise to learn that Alberta, which has Canada’s second-lowest level of vaccination, and is home to many rural regions where the overwhelming majority of people are unvaccinated, and which either ended or is about to end nearly all public-health measures including masking, has now decided to largely do away with tracing the contacts of people infected with COVID-19. It will also stop asking people who test positive to isolate. And it will stop asking people with mild symptoms to take a test.
Don’t test. Don’t trace. Don’t isolate.
Don’t ask, don’t tell. Don’t know, don’t care.
It’s public health from Alfred E. Neuman: “What, me worry?”
On this page, we have repeatedly pointed to overseas jurisdictions that have turned themselves into real-time experiments in what happens when the highly infectious Delta variant meets a too-low vaccination rate and the end of rules on masking, distancing and indoor capacity limits.
In the United States, those experiments are going well – which is to say the preliminary results are clear, and clearly very, very bad.
Consider the evidence from Florida. As of July 28, it had more than 9,000 people in hospital with COVID-19, up from fewer than 2,000 a month earlier.
On a per capita basis, Florida now has about three times as many people hospitalized as Ontario had this past spring – when desperate measures had to be taken to lock down much of the economy, so as to flatten the infection curve and avoid overwhelming the health care system.
Florida’s story is similar to other U.S. states, from Nevada to Missouri to Louisiana, where weeks of spiking infection numbers are leading to a sharp rise in hospitalizations.
Each of these states have a few things in common. They have relatively low vaccination rates. They have the Delta variant. And they’ve ditched public-health restrictions.
Who else has all that? Alberta.
And Alberta is adding something new: blinders. The province is saying it doesn’t believe there will be another virus spike – it has basically declared the pandemic over. But, if there is another wave, it doesn’t want to know about it until the tsunami is already ashore. The early warning system is being dismantled.
Alberta is also saying that, in future, residents who believe they may have been infected should not get tested, should not share their contacts with contact tracers, and should not stay home to avoid infecting others.
Where did they get this plan? Blindfolds R Us?
On a positive note, Canada has a higher vaccination rate than the U.S. – slightly more than 80 per cent of Canadians 12 years of age and over have at least one shot, versus 67 per cent in the U.S. That means we are at least closer than the Americans to possibly achieving what the government of Alberta believes has already achieved, namely cutting the link between COVID-19 infection and widespread illness, hospitalization and death.
But Canada’s total vaccination rate isn’t high enough to have reached that point. And Alberta’s rate is the country’s second-lowest. Its level of vaccine protection is barely higher than Florida’s. In the Sunshine State, 68 per cent of adults have had a first dose, and 59 per cent a second. Alberta’s figures for those 12 years and older are 75 and 64 per cent.
That leaves a big pool of vulnerable, unvaccinated Albertans. Out of 4.4 million residents, 1.6 million have had zero shots – 661,000 children under the age of 12, who cannot get a jab, and nearly one million teens and adults who for whatever reason have chosen not to.
Is now the time, and is Alberta the place, to end all public-health restrictions, throw away masks, ditch most testing and contact tracing, and effectively tell people that COVID-19 has been turned into the common cold – so if you’re infectious, get out there and mingle?
The experiment has already begun.
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