‘It may be tempting to think that not providing information will make COVID-19 go away. Unfortunately, the opposite is true,’ Hinshaw warned
A “small but significant increase” of Albertans refusing to cooperate with contact tracers could push back the easing of restrictions, warns Alberta’s top doctor.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the provincial chief medical officer of health, said less than one per cent of confirmed cases didn’t answer the phone or return calls from contact tracers last year. That number swelled to 1.9 per cent in January and is at 1.3 per cent so far in February.
She said there has also been a notable increase in the amount of people who were initially willing to speak with contact tracers but later refused to provide necessary information to carry out the process.
“This leaves gaps that COVID-19 is happy to fill,” said Hinshaw on Wednesday.
She said many Albertans are tired of the pandemic and anxious to return to their normal lives, but being uncooperative with public health officials won’t hasten the reopening process.
“It may be tempting to think that not providing information will make COVID-19 go away. Unfortunately, the opposite is true,” Hinshaw warned.
“Trying to ignore COVID-19 and not participating with contact tracing only pushes back the day we can ease restrictions further, by giving the virus the opportunity to spread farther and faster without being stopped.”
Alberta public health officials follow up with unresponsive individuals multiple times to obtain necessary details for contact tracing and send a written notice of information requirements under the Public Health Act, said Hinshaw.
Even a “handful” of people refusing to participate can lead to significant spread of the deadly virus, she added. In that case, it could inhibit Alberta’s path forward with COVID-19.
While there are specific benchmarks to hit for each phase of the province’s reopening plan, officials have declined to offer concrete numbers that would lead to a pause or reversal of relaxed restrictions.
Hinshaw said they are looking at three key metrics — positivity rate, new cases and R-value — but did not give firm figures when pressed for details.
“It’s not about a specific number. It’s about the change, the trajectory and the trends,” she said, adding an R-value above one and sustained growth of new cases over multiple weeks would be cause for concern.
Another 277 cases of the novel coronavirus were recorded in the province on Wednesday from 7,476 tests, representing a positivity rate of about 3.9 per cent.
There are now 4,857 active cases.
The province also identified four variant COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, all of which are the strain first identified in the U.K. A total 225 variants infections have been recorded since mid-December.
Seven new deaths bring the provincial death toll to 1,798.
There are currently 370 Albertans in hospital, 60 of whom are in ICU.
Premier passes blame to federal government on uncertain vaccine plan
Premier Jason Kenney says he doesn’t “understand the huge rush” to identify next steps in Alberta’s vaccine rollout plan considering supply issues.
The province has yet to release details on the next phase of its immunization program when additional doses become available, despite other provinces across the country releasing comprehensive strategies.
“I frankly don’t understand the huge rush. We haven’t even really gotten into Phase 1B yet. We don’t have enough vaccines — that is the issue. The issue is supply,” said Kenney, during a press conference on Wednesday where he announced new small business supports.
“We are taking care of our part of the deal, which is to make sure we can deliver as many jabs in as many arms as possible if and when we start to get some decent supply.”
Kenney turned the blame to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government, saying they failed to exert the same “political pressure” as other countries, like Israel, to secure vaccines.
The schedule of projected vaccine supply “keep slipping,” said Kenney.
That’s why Alberta is working with other provinces to identify possible sources of domestic vaccine production, like Calgary’s Providence Therapeutics, he added. He called the efforts a “provincially-led plan B.”
Kenney said further details on vaccine distribution will be released this Friday, but added that “when it comes to subsequent phases, a lot of this is quite fluid.”