Hinshaw reiterates need to live with COVID, focus on other health issues in Alberta

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Alberta’s chief medical officer of health is acknowledging she “didn’t do a good job” in explaining the reasoning behind her recommendation to end mandatory isolation and COVID-19 testing centres and what precautions will remain in place.

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Speaking on 630 CHED radio Thursday morning, Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s comments echoed an op-ed she signed and distributed to media on Wednesday, in an attempt to further explain the rationale behind the changes.

“I do feel very bad about how this has played out, and I completely understand the reaction of, again, people feeling afraid and angry,” Hinshaw said.

“I can’t do my job without people trusting that the recommendations I make are with the interests of Albertans at heart.”

On July 28, Hinshaw announced that quarantining for people who are close contacts of COVID-19 cases would no longer be mandatory as of July 29. Starting Aug. 16, Albertans who test positive themselves will no longer be legally required to isolate. Provincial masking orders on transit, in taxis or ride sharing will expire on that day as well.

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Provincial contact tracers will no longer call close contacts and masking will no longer be required in schools, but is recommended if there are outbreaks. The province will also no longer do routine asymptomatic testing for close contacts.

Testing assessment centres close Aug. 31. After that testing will only be at places like doctors’ offices for people with severe symptoms.

When asked if Alberta is alone in these changes, Hinshaw said the province is “early” and that the province needs to shift to an approach to COVID-19 that is sustainable long term, which its current approach is not.

“I think the question is timing, and when we make that shift and again Alberta is on the early edge of making that shift while others are taking longer,” she said. “I don’t believe that this change, this shift, is something that Alberta will be the only one to do, I think, again, it’s that question of when to do it.”

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She said the province looked at the impacts of the Delta variant and its increased transmissibility and modelling over the summer and early fall. She said there is “no question” there will be increased cases, but those cases will not bring the same level of severe outcomes.

“It’s not about COVID being behind us or no longer a risk, it’s about the nature of that risk changing based on the wide availability of vaccines, and the uptake that we currently have,” she said. “I think people need to take COVID very seriously, and I continue to do so, but again, we can’t look at COVID as the only risk that we face.”

She said by focusing solely on COVID-19 as the main risk, other health issues like babies dying from congenital syphilis, cancer screen rates dropping where people are not getting diagnosed as early as they should be, and falling behind in vaccines for other vaccine-preventable diseases, are overlooked.

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“The public health resources, we only have so many people to do the work and if we allocate the majority of those people to COVID as the number one risk, as that risk changes, I believe we’re not doing Albertans the best service.”

As for schools, Hinshaw said the province is working through a “bundle of interventions” that could be set in place if there is a surge in respiratory illness.

“Many viruses circulate in schools that can have impact on kids health,” Hinshaw said.

“If we’re looking at this in a sustainable way, what are the kinds of interventions that we can live with over the long term, what are the lessons from COVID that we can learn to improve our kids health. Those are the kinds of things that we want to be able to do, to go into schools when there is that surge and put in place some measures that help mitigate transmission.”

As health professionals continue to air concerns over the changes, Hinshaw said she will be hosting a town hall for physicians and pharmacists Thursday night.

“I know that many of them are very concerned, and I appreciate their concern and advocacy,” she said.

“I think it’s important to recognize that the recommendations that I made were not about leaving COVID behind, but rather changing how we manage COVID so that we can sustain that approach and start to also have resources to address some of the other health concerns that are facing Albertans right now.”

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