Not so many months ago Alberta was low in the provincial rankings of Covid infections, praised for the number of tests it could complete in a day and lauded for its prescient stockpiling of PPE.
It appeared the Alberta government was on the right track. It never completely locked down the economy, leaving construction sites buzzing and keeping a number of workplaces open without huge repercussions.
The picture is radically different now.
Alberta is punching well above its weight in terms of new Covid cases. On Tuesday there were 713 new cases reported, seven deaths in 24 hours, 8,090 active cases in the province. Most troubling is the rapid filling up of hospital beds – 207 Covid cases in hospital with 43 of those in ICU.
A continuing care home outbreak in Edmonton precipitated by one case in the third week October has claimed the lives of 10, with 76 patients and 70 staff infected. Still Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw talk about the need to balance mental and economic health against the perils of the spreading pandemic. But now strategies that appeared to be working in spring and summer are failing. Appealing to individual responsibility, Kenney’s mantra of late, is having little or no effect. Just check Alberta social media if you still believe our better angels will save the day. Twitter is devolving into a free-for-all of libertarian anti-maskers reviving the long since debunked theory that Covid is no worse than seasonal flu.
Kenney’s thought processes on Covid strategy are pretty explicit. He stated them on Friday. “We’ve seen other jurisdictions implement sweeping lockdowns, indiscriminately violating people’s rights and destroying livelihoods. Nobody wants that to happen here in Alberta.” While that might fit well into his big picture balance-the-risk philosophy, the statement was pretty tone deaf given the current crisis.
Even Justin Trudeau felt the need to counter any economy-trumps-all sentiment. “I would hope that no leader in our country is easing public health vigilance because they feel pressure not to shut down businesses or slow down our economy,” the prime minister said this week.
To be fair, Kenney’s tactics aren’t just about the economy. In a province with a continuing job crisis and a relatively young population, mental and social well being must weigh on the public health balance.
However, it’s time for some triage to wrestle the immediate crisis. The circuit breaker strategy, a short defined lockdown to knock back Covid spread, won’t bring the pandemic to a halt but it will address the specific mounting emergency in Alberta’s hospitals and care homes. The target is to provide some breathing room for health care workers to regroup. Besides the strains in hospital occupancy and staffing, Alberta is faced with a shortage of contact tracers. The province is now only doing very limited contact calls while it scrambles to staff up call centres.
In the interim, Albertans with positive Covid test results are expected to call their own contacts – a spotty and wishful-thinking strategy.
Ironically Kenney’s refusal to adopt the national Covid Alert app in Alberta is particularly ill-thought out now. The premier argued that since Covid Alert doesn’t connect back to provincial contact tracers it isn’t as effective as the province’s Trace Alberta app. That’s sort of a moot point now.
The wheels have fallen off Alberta’s Covid strategy.
It may be galling for the premier to follow the lead of his peers across the country and re-institute lockdowns but it’s time to take action. A short sharp lockdown will let the province take a deep breath before plunging back into the lengthy efforts to bend the Covid curve while trying to revive the economy.
Alberta’s initial measured approach worked well for the province in early days. But in any long campaign, battle plans must be occasionally reviewed and revamped to address changing circumstances.
Photo Credit: Edmonton Journal
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