Biologist says Alberta’s current health restrictions akin to fighting ‘raging forest fire’ with 3 buckets

CALGARY — It’s been billed as a race between the variants and the vaccines and, right now in Alberta, one side has a sizeable lead. 

The province currently leads the country in active COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, renewing calls for tighter public health measures. 

“We need to act now,” Dr. Gosia Gasperowicz, a developmental biologist, told CTV News. “What we’re doing now is like a raging forest fire, and (the province is saying), ‘maybe I’ll put three buckets on it and see what happens’.”

This week, Alberta’s COVID-19 numbers climbed to heights only reached during the peak of the second wave in mid-December. 

Two weeks after that winter spike, the province saw a record number of hospitalizations. 

The current case count is largely driven by variants, which now make up around 60 per cent of all active cases. 

Gasperowicz believes previously enacted public health measures won’t be enough this time around.  

“Now, despite part of the population being vaccinated and despite closing in-person schools above Grade 7, we still have the rate of growth as fast as our second wave,” explained Gasperowicz. “There needs to be more action.”

The provincial response will be under the microscope again Monday when the COVID Cabinet Committee meets. 

As of Sunday, there has been no indication from the province that any changes are coming.  

When asked Friday about the potential for more stringent restrictions, Health Minister Tyler Shandro called the current case surge “the storm before the calm.”

He also put his faith in the provincial immunization efforts. 

“As we have more vaccines going, the cases will reduce,” said Shandro. “And, as the cases are reduced, hospitalizations will be reduced as well.”

But many in Alberta’s medical community say Shandro needs to bring in new measures. 

Dr. Christopher Mody believes vaccines alone — especially at the province’s current rollout pace — cannot beat COVID-19. 

“Viruses have an amazing way of overcoming obstacles,” he said. 

Tim Caulfield, a public health policy expert, also wants to see changes. 

“If patterns play out as expected, the hospitalizations are going to get much worse,” he said. “So are we doing enough? It looks like we’re not.”

“In science, not many things are 100 per cent sure,” Gasperowicz added. “But that was very close to certain that this wave would happen and would happen like it has.”

The cabinet committee is scheduled to meet Monday at 10:15 a.m.

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