Two prominent doctors have signed their names to a letter addressed to Albertans calling on them to demand that the provincial government release its latest COVID-19 modelling that is guiding its pandemic-related decisions.
In a letter dated Oct. 1, Alberta’s former chief medical officer of health Dr. James Talbot and Dr. Noel Gibney, professor emeritus at the University of Alberta’s department of critical care medicine, wrote that they “would like to know how long the fourth wave is going to last, how many more Albertans are projected to die and when we can expect elective surgeries to begin and ICUs to return to normal.”
The doctors cite Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey saying that earlier this week that Premier Jason Kenney told him his province’s help was not needed because Alberta’s predictive modelling suggests the additional resources aren’t needed at this time. On Thursday, Kenney announced he had accepted help from Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as from the federal government.
“Our health-care system is in crisis, ICU capacity is under killing pressure and the acute health-care workforce is spiritually, physically and mentally bone-weary,” Talbot and Gibney wrote.
While Kenney said Thursday that his government is not considering additional health measures until it has a better sense of how effective measures brought in earlier this month have been at reducing COVID-19’s spread and hospitalizations, Talbot and Gibney’s letter reiterates suggestions they have made which they believe could help address “the astonishingly high COVID rates in our province.”
The recommendations include the “reinstitution of contact tracing and limited measures to prevent indoor transmission.”
“The premier has called our last recommendation a lockdown and further says he refuses to do anything that will punish the fully immunized,” the letter reads.
“Our call for limited restrictions to prevent indoor transmission are, at most, an inconvenience for the fully vaccinated who are, in fact, being punished now by a government whose continued inaction is depriving them of planned surgery, access to hospital beds and properly functioning ICUs.”
The health minister’s press secretary Steve Buick said the government is watching AHS’s “early warning system”, an internal capacity-planning tool updated constantly based on the latest trends.
He said it shows a wide range of potential scenarios at a given time, “ranging from a potential drop in admissions (if we’re at or near the peak in cases), to a potential increase”.
“The worst case informs contingency planning, but as the premier said we are working to ensure it does not happen, including the public health measures announced about 2 weeks ago,” Buick said.
“We continue to watch the data and the impact of recent changes and will take further action if and as warranted, including most recently the implementation of mandatory vaccination for the public service.”
Buick was pressed about releasing that data, but has not replied.
Talbot and Gibney also suggest they believe the government appears to be trying to allow COVID-19 to spread throughout the province in an attempt to achieve herd immunity.
“It is clear from the actions of the government of Alberta and the premier that their callous strategy is to stand by until enough Albertans have contracted COVID, become ill and then, hopefully, recovered, to get to the point where there are too few Albertans without immunity for the COVID virus to find new victims,” the letter reads. “Such a strategy will continue to cost us at least 20 unimmunized Albertan lives a day, create maximum stress for the health-care system and health-care workers and deprive thousands of Albertans of planned surgeries and other potentially life-saving treatments.
“Key to understanding this cold-blooded strategy is determining how long it will take to achieve this goal of ‘herd immunity.’ Knowing that tells us how many more Albertans will die from COVID or from being deprived of access to the health-care system and how long AHS (Alberta Health Services) and its employees must endure this killing stress.
“We believe Albertans should demand to see the data, the assumptions and the modelling used to make the decision to continue to do nothing.”
On Friday, Alberta Health announced 14 more deaths attributed to COVID-19 and that 1,630 additional cases of COVID-19 had been identified in the province in the past 24 hours.
In an email to Global News on Friday, AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said the health authority “continues to do all it can to ensure we have enough ICU capacity to meet patient demand, including opening additional spaces and redeploying staff.”
As of 12:15 p.m. on Friday, Williamson said Alberta had 374 ICU beds open, noting that number is because the province has worked to expand capacity to accommodate the surge in patients. Its normal baseline capacity is 173 ICU beds.
“There are currently 316 patients in ICU, the vast majority of whom are COVID positive,” Williamson said. “The number of patients in ICU has increased by five per cent in the past seven days.
“Provincially, ICU capacity (including additional surge beds) is currently at 84 per cent. Without the additional surge spaces, provincial ICU capacity would be at 183 per cent.”
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