Why Alberta Is Changing Its Health Care Response To COVID-19 – .

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Why Alberta Is Changing Its Health Care Response To COVID-19 – .


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I’m sorry the way I communicated about the planned changes to our COVID-19 response caused feelings of confusion, fear or anger in some people. I hear the message people got from my words was that I believe COVID is over and people are on their own to deal with it. That was not my message, so I want to share some of the rationale for the changes and why I believe this action plan will support all of Albertans’ health.

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Over the past year and a half, we have faced an extraordinary threat together. COVID-19 required extraordinary measures that saved lives and kept our healthcare system from being overwhelmed. These extraordinary measures were necessary and effective, but they also had unintended consequences that affected the health of Albertans in other ways.

I care deeply about the health of all Albertans. This means that I have to constantly consider not only COVID-19, but all other threats to people’s health. The majority of our public health resources have been dedicated to the COVID-19 response, as needed. This has come at the cost of not fully working on other threats, such as syphilis and opioid-related deaths. As vaccine coverage has changed the nature of the risk of COVID-19 province-wide, it is time, in my opinion, to move from extraordinary province-wide measures to more targeted and local measures. This allows us to start looking at other issues while continuing to protect against COVID-19 in high-risk areas and responding to local outbreaks where the health system is at risk.

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Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from the Alberta Legislative Assembly media room in Edmonton on Wednesday, July 28, 2021. Photo de Ian Kucerak /Postmedia

We will not eliminate COVID, which means we must learn to live with it. Testing every person with a runny nose or sore throat is an extraordinary measure that we cannot sustain, especially during respiratory virus season. Legally forcing everyone to stay home for 10 days if they have symptoms is also an extraordinary step. It was necessary before the vaccines, but it’s also incredibly disruptive; it could only be justified when the risk was not controlled by vaccine protection. I know the vast majority of Albertans do not knowingly want to hurt others. I believe that for those who test positive for COVID-19, knowing that staying home is the way to protect others and that it’s the right thing to do will be enough for them to take that action.

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When it comes to children, I understand the anxiety over children under 12 for whom the vaccine is not yet available. I myself have two children in this age group, so this is a personal and professional concern. For children, it is important to think about the much lower risk of serious outcomes and the consequences of the public health measures that we have put in place. We know this has resulted in mental health issues in children and impacts on learning and development. We walk through the risks to our children every day, and it’s important to examine how the risks of COVID-19 for children stack up against other risks to help inform the way forward. For example, for children 0 to 9 years of age, the risk of ICU admission for seasonal influenza in the year before COVID was roughly equal to their risk of ICU admission for COVID . In another example, children aged 5 to 14 had a 140 times higher risk of going to the emergency room for a sports-related injury in 2019 than their risk of COVID-related hospitalization since March 2020. That doesn’t mean that we should ignore the risk to children of any of those things, but I think that means we have to look at the COVID risk in the context of all the other risks we face.

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COVID-19 is a nasty problem; experts do not always agree on the exact nature of the problem, let alone the best approach. But that’s not the only nasty problem we face together. In addressing these complex issues, we are best served by trying to understand each other’s perspectives, engaging in respectful dialogue, and continuing to evaluate our approach. This is exactly what we will do with the upcoming changes in our COVID-19 plans. We will rely on a robust surveillance system including wastewater monitoring, clinical testing, sentinel surveillance in primary care, and epidemic testing to monitor trends and impacts. We will respond to local threats and continue to communicate with Albertans.

I cannot stress enough that vaccines are our most powerful tool in the fight against this virus. While the coverage we have in this province minimizes the threat of overwhelming the healthcare system, the virus remains a significant risk. Now is the best time to choose to be protected, both for yourself and for those around you.

I am committed to you that I will continue to do my best every day to serve Albertans, as I have always done, taking into account all aspects of the health of all Albertans.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw is the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Alberta.

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