Albertans protest ending mandatory COVID-19 isolation, masking and testing changes

Medical professionals helped organize two rallies Friday at noon showing opposition to the Alberta government’s plan to lift mandatory isolation rules, scale back contact tracing and COVID-19 testing.

Read more: Canada’s top doctors say Alberta’s COVID-19 plan could have ripple effects across the country

Two demonstrations were planned at the McDougall Centre in Calgary and the Alberta legislature in Edmonton.

“I’m here on behalf of frankly, my fellow citizens, just due to our concerns over the government’s recent decisions and the course that they’ve set for not only us; but for our students, our health-care systems, our education systems and all the institutions that will inevitably suffer if we go ahead with Aug. 16 and September after that,” Albert Nobbs said.

Nobbs co-organized the rallies with Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room physician based in Calgary.

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READ MORE: Alberta to adjust COVID-19 masking, isolation, testing rules over next month

On Wednesday, Alberta Health announced that effective July 29, close contacts will no longer be notified of exposure by contact tracers nor will they be legally required to isolate – although it still recommended.

Further measures will be eliminated Aug. 16: people who test positive for COVID-19 will not be mandated to isolate at that time, but it is still strongly recommended. Isolation hotels will also close as quarantine supports end.

Also on Aug. 16, provincial mandatory masking orders will be lifted. Some masking in acute care or continuing care facilities may still be required.

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“I couldn’t understand it,” Nobbs said, referring to the announced changes.

“We’re setting world precedent here, especially in the developed world, of just completely dropping our guard.

“We’re exposing a whole demographic — our children and the unvaccinated — to Delta (variant). This thing will explore every corner of our province.

“This isn’t a risk that we should be taking,” he said. “This isn’t a risk we should be allowing them to take for us.”

Read more: Amid pushback, Alberta health minister defends plan to ease COVID-19 isolation, masking, testing rules

In Edmonton, all the demonstrators appeared to be wearing masks and most were spread out.

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Effective Aug. 31, COVID-19 testing will no longer be available through assessment centres. It will be available in primary care settings including doctors’ offices or in acute care and hospital settings.

Read more: Alberta taking ‘risky gamble’ by ending COVID isolation: Canadian Paediatric Society

In a letter to the minister of health dated July 30, the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association said community physicians were not consulted about this testing change.

“This government has frequently, and without consultation, changed processes during the pandemic that impact community physicians. This is another example.

“Large system changes require collaboration within the system to review the risks, logistics and possible solutions to determine optimal decisions.

“Announcing system changes in news releases as the single source for community physicians to be informed is not acceptable for delivering seamless health services,” the letter to the minister reads.

A rally at the Alberta legislature opposing the government’s plans to lift COVID-19 isolation requirements, masking rules and change testing. July 30, 2021. Global News

With one in four adults and all children under 12 still unvaccinated and variant spread, EZMSA said COVID-19 is still a risk and “removing supports is premature.”

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Read more: Canada facing the start of a Delta-driven 4th wave, top doctors warn

The group also said physicians’ offices are not an appropriate location for testing.

“We must not expose other patients to COVID-19. Many patients in our offices are ineligible for vaccination or at risk of incomplete vaccine protection due to age or medical conditions.

“Our community physicians are backlogged, recovering from a larger workload due to the delay in care the pandemic has caused,” wrote Dr. Cheryl Mack, vice president of EZMSA.

“It is premature to push such risk on to community offices that do not have the same level of capacity, support, and funding as assessment centres. The assessment centres must continue for the foreseeable future. Periodic reassessment that includes consultation with community physicians must be done before transitioning this service to the broader health system.”

Click to play video: 'Health Minister Tyler Shandro defends plan to drop most of Alberta’s COVID-19 rules' Health Minister Tyler Shandro defends plan to drop most of Alberta’s COVID-19 rules

Health Minister Tyler Shandro defends plan to drop most of Alberta’s COVID-19 rules

Health Minister Tyler Shandro was asked about pushback to the government’s approach on Thursday.

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“This is a plan that is based on the science and based on the data,” he said said July 29.

“We know that people will continue to have that anxiety but this was work that was done by public health based on the science, based on the data.”

Click to play video: 'Canada may experience 4th COVID-19 wave driven by Delta variant: Dr. Tam' Canada may experience 4th COVID-19 wave driven by Delta variant: Dr. Tam

Canada may experience 4th COVID-19 wave driven by Delta variant: Dr. Tam

“I firmly believe that quarantine and isolation can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially in light of the spread of the Delta variant,” Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, said Friday during a news briefing in Ottawa.

She urged people to continue isolating, get tested for COVID-19 and inform their close contacts even if it is no longer required.

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Vaccination rates in Alberta have begun to lag. About 75 per cent of those eligible have received at least one dose of vaccine and 64 per cent are fully immunized.

That means there are hundreds of thousands of unvaccinated people in Alberta, Tam said, and there’s the potential for large COVID-19 clusters and outbreaks.

“The bottom line is get vaccinated. There’s still a ways to go in Alberta.”

Letter from EZMSA to health minister

EZMSA COVID Announcement by Emily Mertz on Scribd

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