CALGARY — Alberta is lifting much of its remaining COVID-19 restrictions in the coming weeks, even as case counts climb and the virus continues to infect unvaccinated Albertans.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, in her first COVID-19 update since June 29, announced Wednesday that starting Aug. 16, people who test positive for COVID-19 will not be mandated to quarantine anymore, but the province will recommend it.
Additionally, Albertans with COVID-19 symptoms will not be asked to get tested, but to stay at home until they feel better.
Two weeks later, COVID-19 tests will only be available to people who need to go to the hospital or see a physician.
That was just part of a shift in the province’s public health response as it moves to lift a number of measures related to quarantine, isolation and masks.
Starting Thursday, close contacts of COVID-19 cases will no longer be mandated to quarantine, but isolation will still be required for positive cases and people with symptoms.
Masks won’t be mandatory in public transit, rideshares and taxies starting on Aug. 16, the province announced. Some masking may still be required in hospitals or continuing care facilities.
In Lethbridge, Premier Jason Kenney said it’s time to think differently about COVID-19.
“We have to get used to fact that cases no longer equal high levels of hospitalizations or fatalities,” Kenney said. “Our focus is on vaccines instead of restrictions as the most scientific response (to COVID).”
‘PLEASE GET VACCINATED’
Hinshaw reported 194 new cases of COVID-19 and a positivity rate of 2.9 per cent in her update.
“Cases have risen recently, almost entirely in those who have not been fully vaccinated as we expected would likely happen as people come into close contact with each other again,” Hinshaw said.
Since July 1, when the province lifted the large majority of its restrictions, people not fully immunized accounted for 95 per cent of COVID-19 cases, 94 per cent of hospitalizations and 95 per cent of deaths caused by the disease, Hinshaw added.
As of Tuesday, 75.6 per cent of eligible Albertans had one dose and 64.3 per cent were fully immunized.
“We still need to increase those numbers but this is encouraging progress,” Hinshaw told media.
She echoed Kenney’s comment that at some point in the history of the virus, it’s necessary to shift the point of view.
“The question is, what time points do we make a shift into living with COVID?” she said. “I think everyone’s aware that we’re not going to eliminate COVID.”
“And so, there are risks and benefits of different time points of making that shift,” she added.
While Hinshaw and Kenney tried to turn the page to the next chapter of COVID-19, University of Calgary infectious diesease specialist Dr. Craig Jenne warned that there’s such a thing as a bumpy transition to that next chapter, particularly with the Delta variant and a quarter of the eligible population remaining unvaccinated.
“(When) people that are infected are no longer required to quarantine and they are allowed to go back into the community, back to work or back to school, there is a risk they will pass that virus onto other unvaccinated people,” Jenne said.
SOCIAL MEDIA ERUPTION
Following the announcement by Dr. Hinshaw, social media erupted as a number of physicians weighed in on the news.
Dr. Joe Vipond said the announcement was so disheartening, he was at a loss to respond to it:
There are 84 Albertans with COVID-19 in hospital and 18 in ICU. Only one of the ICU patients has two doses, Hinshaw said.
“Please get vaccinated. If you haven’t gotten both your doses yet, this is your time.”
With files from CTV Edmonton