Medical professionals helped organize two rallies Friday at noon showing opposition to the Alberta government’s plan to lift mandatory isolation rules, scale back contact tracing and COVID-19 testing.
Demonstrations took place at the McDougall Centre in Calgary and the Alberta legislature in Edmonton.
“I’m just appalled with what the government is doing,” Emily Devereux said.
“They’re leaving so many people behind… Suddenly we don’t have the power of data… We can’t even make the call for ourselves.
“I live with my sister and she has two young children who are both under 12 and can’t get vaccinated. So our household is still not safe and we’re still going to have to live in somewhat isolation until who knows when.”
On Wednesday, Alberta Health announced that effective July 29, close contacts will no longer be notified of exposure by contact tracers nor will they be legally required to isolate – although it still recommended.
Further measures will be eliminated Aug. 16: people who test positive for COVID-19 will not be mandated to isolate at that time, but it is still strongly recommended. Isolation hotels will also close as quarantine supports end.
Also on Aug. 16, provincial mandatory masking orders will be lifted. Some masking in acute care or continuing care facilities may still be required.
“I just maybe got enough courage to start doing a couple things and now that we’re not going to have the power of testing or contact tracing and people can legally walk around — even if they are able to get a COVID test — and are positive,” Devereux said.
“Suddenly, I can’t have confidence in knowing that I can navigate the world again, which is really frustrating and scary.”
Albert Nobbs co-organized the rallies with Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room physician based in Calgary, and spoke in Edmonton about his frustration.
“I’m here on behalf of frankly, my fellow citizens, just due to our concerns over the government’s recent decisions and the course that they’ve set for not only us; but for our students, our health-care systems, our education systems and all the institutions that will inevitably suffer if we go ahead with Aug. 16 and September after that,” he said.
“I couldn’t understand it,” Nobbs said, referring to the announced changes.
“We’re setting world precedent here, especially in the developed world, of just completely dropping our guard.
“We’re exposing a whole demographic — our children and the unvaccinated — to Delta (variant). This thing will explore every corner of our province.
“This isn’t a risk that we should be taking,” he said. “This isn’t a risk we should be allowing them to take for us.”
A growing crowd at a rally in Edmonton spurred by Alberta doctors. Participants say they came here today to protest the province’s changes to COVID-19 measures. This event in #yeg mirrors another in #yyc. pic.twitter.com/eRn1CGMA7Z
— Morgan Black (@morganrblack) July 30, 2021
In Edmonton, all the demonstrators appeared to be wearing masks and most were spread out.
“The reality is, what that’s going to end up, is two things: we’re not going to have transparency as to how the virus is ripping through communities, and pretty much anybody who’s vulnerable is going to be infected,” Vipond said at the rally in Calgary.
“And that’s going to include some of the double-vaxxed, because the things we’re learning about Delta is that you are not 100 per cent protected by the vaccine and that means people are going to be sick.”
While some Albertans may not require ER or hospital care, there’s still a risk for long COVID, Vipond said, even in those with mild symptoms.
“Basically, public health has decided not to value the health of the public.”
Vipond stressed every child under 12 is vulnerable and questioned why Alberta is lifting all requirements when no other jurisdiction is doing the same.
“We’re doing this two weeks before schools open for the fall. What is going on? This government has lost the moral authority to govern,” Vipond said. “(Dr.) Deena Hinshaw has lost the moral authority to be our public health leader.
“We want resignations from Dr. Hinshaw, Premier Kenney, Minister Shandro and we want to negotiate a return to sane public health policy.”
Effective Aug. 31, COVID-19 testing will no longer be available through assessment centres. It will be available in primary care settings including doctors’ offices or in acute care and hospital settings.
In a letter to the minister of health dated July 30, the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association said community physicians were not consulted about this testing change.
“This government has frequently, and without consultation, changed processes during the pandemic that impact community physicians. This is another example.
“Large system changes require collaboration within the system to review the risks, logistics and possible solutions to determine optimal decisions.
“Announcing system changes in news releases as the single source for community physicians to be informed is not acceptable for delivering seamless health services,” the letter to the minister reads.
With one in four adults and all children under 12 still unvaccinated and variant spread, EZMSA said COVID-19 is still a risk and “removing supports is premature.”
The group also said physicians’ offices are not an appropriate location for testing.
“We must not expose other patients to COVID-19. Many patients in our offices are ineligible for vaccination or at risk of incomplete vaccine protection due to age or medical conditions.
“Our community physicians are backlogged, recovering from a larger workload due to the delay in care the pandemic has caused,” wrote Dr. Cheryl Mack, vice president of EZMSA.
“It is premature to push such risk on to community offices that do not have the same level of capacity, support, and funding as assessment centres. The assessment centres must continue for the foreseeable future. Periodic reassessment that includes consultation with community physicians must be done before transitioning this service to the broader health system.”
Health Minister Tyler Shandro was asked about pushback to the government’s approach on Thursday.
“This is a plan that is based on the science and based on the data,” he said July 29.
“We know that people will continue to have that anxiety but this was work that was done by public health based on the science, based on the data.”
The changes are being made, in part, to better manage public health resources, Dr. Deena Hinshaw explained on Wednesday.
“COVID is not over… COVID will not be eliminated. We need to learn to live with it.
“COVID is not the only threat that we’re facing,” she said.
Opposition NDP leader Rachel Notley said Friday’s rallies were a demonstration of Albertans’ concern and outrage with the government’s latest pandemic decision.
“People are dumbfounded, they are shocked.
“Today, we heard from medical experts across the country, including Canada’s top public health officer, warning against the reckless decision taken by this government with respect to abandoning all remaining COVID protocols,” Notley said.
“We join with the folks here today to beg the government to reverse their decision and to maintain the practices that they have in place.
“Albertans have a right to know if cases are growing. They have a right to know how the government is dealing with that.
“And they have a right to know that people who are infected are not walking around making the problem worse.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the minister of health said Friday that science has guided the plans.
“Dr. Hinshaw’s recommendations are informed by science, not politics,” Brett Boyden said. “Attempts to sully her reputation by the leader of the Opposition and others are repugnant.
“Dr. Hinshaw deserves to be commended for her efforts to lead Alberta out of the pandemic and has the full support of Alberta’s government.”
Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, urged people to continue isolating, get tested for COVID-19 and inform their close contacts even if it is no longer required.
“I firmly believe that quarantine and isolation can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially in light of the spread of the Delta variant,” she said Friday during a news briefing in Ottawa.
Vaccination rates in Alberta have begun to lag. About 75 per cent of those eligible have received at least one dose of vaccine and 64 per cent are fully immunized.
“The bottom line is get vaccinated. There’s still a ways to go in Alberta.”
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