Hinshaw apologizes for delay in release of COVID-19 data used in decision making 

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health is apologizing for failing to release public health data used to justify controversial changes in the province’s pandemic response. 

Dr. Deena Hinshaw had planned to share modelling used to shape Alberta’s new COVID-19 protocols during an information meeting Wednesday with primary-care providers.

“I’m sorry that it’s not available,” Hinshaw said during the online session.

“Unfortunately, this is not something I can do by myself, and it’s also something we can’t release without moving through all of the processes that are necessary in government.”

Hinshaw said it has taken longer than expected to compile the report, due to ongoing changes in Alberta’s COVID-19 response. 

A decision to keep protocols such as masking, testing and isolating in place until at least Sept. 27, made last week, delayed work on the report, she said.

Work on providing data ‘is a priority’

“Unfortunately, it’s just taking a little bit longer, given the events of last week where we were focusing on analysis of the trends and putting together packages to consider a shift in our timing, and then integrating that new timing in our planning.

“A lot of the time that the team had has gone to working on those pieces. And we just haven’t had the chance to finish synthesizing and putting together the evidence summary for public release, so that work is underway. It is a priority.” 

Last week, amid escalating infection rates, the province walked back plans to lift a slate of COVID-19 public health measures that had been set to expire Aug. 16 — including mandatory isolation, public testing and mandatory masking on transit.

Those protocols will now remain in place for another six weeks.

While some of the protocol changes were delayed, many pandemic restrictions were eased on July 29. Quarantine for close contacts is no longer mandatory, but recommended. Contact tracers no longer notify close contacts. Asymptomatic testing is no longer recommended.

Evidence and modelling used to support the changes will be made public as soon as possible, but Hinshaw said public health officials had no interest in releasing the data “in piecemeal.” 

She said another information session will be scheduled when the data is available so health-care workers have the opportunity to ask questions.

“It’s on me that I set out a timeline that wasn’t realistic based on the additional workload that came up last week,” Hinshaw said.  

“All I can say is I’m committed to having it released and make sure that all of you have the opportunity to look at it and understand the rationale that went into making the recommendations that I’ve made.” 

Pandemic response must shift, Hinshaw says

Alberta’s decision not to eliminate isolation requirements just yet came after weeks of pressure from local leaders, physicians and families — and a recent surge in cases. 

With 678 new COVID-19 infections reported on Wednesday, the province marked its highest single-day increase in cases in almost three months, when the province was battling a third wave.

There were 5,933 active cases as of Wednesday; 184 patients were in hospital including 48 in intensive care. Two more deaths were reported.

When it comes to imposing public health measures that come with health impacts of their own, that’s something that cases alone don’t justify.– Dr. Deena Hinshaw

Hinshaw said the province will carefully assess the spread of COVID-19 before further restrictions are lifted on Sept. 27.

However, she said the focus of Alberta’s pandemic response needs to shift. 

“When it comes to imposing public health measures that come with health impacts of their own, that’s something that cases alone don’t justify.”

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