Doctors, scientists express concern as Alberta’s decision on re-opening looms

Doctors and scientists are warning Alberta could be in for trouble should the province move ahead with its staged re-opening next week.

Alberta’s cabinet COVID-19 committee is scheduled to meet on Monday and a decision about moving into Stage 3 could come that day.

But Dr. Daniel Niven, an intensive care physician at the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary, noted that the more transmissible variants of concern are growing in the province.

In addition, while hospitalization and ICU admissions had levelled off, they have started to rise again, Niven said.

“We have a vaccine available … we have the potential to literally save people’s lives moving forward,” he said.

“And I think, with increasing our social contacts within society at this point, until [the vaccine] is more widely distributed, it would be very dangerous.”

Alberta reported 696 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, identifying another 130 cases of coronavirus variants. There are currently 5,429 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, 12.9 per cent of which represent variants.

The province has said that a key threshold to move into Stage 3 is a hospitalization number below 300. There were  276 people in hospital due to COVID-19 as of Friday, an increase of 16 from the previous day.

‘A really difficult next few months’

Caroline Colijn, a COVID-19 modeller at Simon Fraser University, has studied Alberta’s variant situation and said without targeted measures to keep it in check, trouble lies ahead.

“The variant is able to rise and transmit, because it’s better than regular COVID at transmission, what that means is whatever we’ve been doing to keep cases mostly flat, isn’t going to work anymore,” she said.

These two charts, provided by Caroline Colijn, a COVID-19 modeller at Simon Fraser University, shows variant modelling in Alberta both with no additional and more proactive measures implemented. (Submitted by Caroline Colijn)

Colijn said if provinces don’t become more proactive around the variant, then it will likely keep doubling each week, on average.

“I think we’re facing a really difficult next few months, because we’re not going to outpace that rise with vaccinations,” she said. 

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alberta, said she is also worried about a potential reopening on Monday.

“It kind of looks like things are turning in the wrong direction right now,” she said. “Which seems like a dicey time to open up a lot of additional venues.”

Saxinger said current projections indicate hospital admissions are very likely to surpass the 300 threshold in the next week.

On Thursday, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the next few weeks will be critical to prevent a third wave of COVID-19 in Alberta.

“A couple of weeks ago, we saw week-over-week rises in our new cases, followed by a stabilization,” Hinshaw said.

“And so right now, again, we’re in a very, very critical time and our collective actions now will determine what we see in the weeks ahead.”

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