Some Edmonton doctors decry province's reopening plan

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Two Edmonton doctors are raising red flags about the speed at which Alberta plans to lift COVID-19 restrictions.

On Wednesday, Premier Jason Kenney announced a three-stage reopening plans based on vaccination rates and hospitalization levels that could see almost all of the province’s COVID-19 restrictions removed by late June or early July.

Dr. James Talbot, a former Alberta chief medical officer of health and co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s (EZMSA) pandemic committee, called the province’s plan “reckless” and “unsafe” and predicted a spike in cases as a result of restrictions lifting that quickly.

“(On) May 8, Alberta had the curious distinction of having the worst infection rate of any province in Canada or state in the United States. So that’s 18 days ago,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

“And now we’re talking in six weeks we’re going to ditch the masks, we’re going to ditch any kind of indoor restrictions, and we’re going to allow super spreader events like the Stampede to go forward. So you don’t get much more reckless than that.”


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The first stage of Alberta’s reopening plan will take effect June 1, two weeks after the vaccination rate hit 50 per cent and with COVID-19 hospitalizations below 800. As of Wednesday, 548 COVID-19 patients were in hospital.

Patios and salons can reopen, outdoor performance and recreational activities can resume.

By mid-June, the government expects to be at the second stage, with 60 per cent of eligible Albertans vaccinated once and hospitalizations below 500 and declining.

At that point, 150 people will be allowed to attend concerts, cinemas and other indoor entertainment spaces can reopen at one-third capacity, and indoor and outdoor sports can resume with no restrictions.

All restrictions will be lifted, including the ban on indoor social gatherings and mask requirements, in the third stage when vaccinations hit 70 per cent.

Talbot said he expected to see the government lift less risky restrictions, like allowing hair appointments or people to meet their grandparents outside, but said no one on the EZMSA’s committee believed everything would reopen by the third stage.

“If you’re going to expose all Albertans to the COVID virus, by not requiring masking, by allowing people to be inside at whatever numbers they want, holding events like the Stampede, then at the very least, we would have expected … 70 per cent at two doses, which is where you’re starting to get full protection,” he said.

Dr. Shazma Mithani, an emergency room doctor in Edmonton, said she was disappointed in the government’s plan, calling it “much too aggressive.”


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“It’s looking very much at a lagging indicator of hospitalization. There was no mention or consideration of leading indicators like case numbers and R-value and per cent positivity,” she said.

“And we know that in the past with waves two and three, not looking at those indicators are what got us into trouble.”

When questioned about the speed of the plan on Wednesday, Kenney said the government is taking a cautious approach by waiting between each stage, following the example of other countries and American states and will be able to take a “targeted approach” if there are local outbreaks.

But Talbot said the province should wait four weeks “at the very least” before seeing if decisions have an impact on hospitalizations. Ontario plans to wait at least three weeks between its stages.

Mithani said she would rather a slower plan, like Ontario’s, where its Stage 3 — which still has some restrictions particularly for indoor settings — will happen after 70 to 80 per cent of adults are vaccinated once and 25 per cent of adults twice.

Kenney said the health officials who set the plan looked at how many Albertans had two doses and how many had some form of immunity from already being infected.

“To just maintain these measures indefinitely when we are beginning to approach population immunity while the COVID numbers are dropping very quickly, would I think be irresponsible,” he said.

“I think at some point people just even more broadly start to ignore rules.”


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