Edmonton

Alberta medical experts call for mandatory COVID-19 restrictions based on hospitalization numbers

Some Alberta medical experts want to see mandatory health measures introduced in the province, but the chief medical officer of health is standing by the hospitalization threshold.

On Tuesday 116 Albertans were in hospital with COVID-19, including 16 in ICU

Dr. Tehseen Ladha was a guest on CBC News Network on Tuesday when she suggested now is the time for Alberta to introduce mandatory health measures. (CBC)

Two Alberta medical experts say the province should bring in mandatory restrictions to combat rising COVID-19 cases and the high number of people being treated for the illness in hospitals.

With 3,203 active cases and 116 people in hospital, including 16 in ICU beds, there's enough evidence that voluntary restrictions are not working, said Dr. Leyla Asadi, an infectious diseases specialist in Edmonton.

"If our metric is increasing hospitalizations, which we're definitely seeing, then we are responding to transitions that occurred several weeks ago," Asadi said. "So I think that those factors definitely suggest that we need to be looking at mandatory restrictions."

A potential second wave of COVID-19 could become a tsunami based on the current number of cases, said Dr. Tehseen Ladha, a pediatrician and assistant professor at the University of Alberta, who also wants to see mandatory measures introduced.

"This is a time that requires some rules and regulations in order to keep us safe," Ladha said. "And that simply hasn't happened. I'm really hopeful it will happen soon, because things are snowballing. And they're going so fast that even if restrictions are put in place now, things are still going to peak very high."

On Tuesday, Alberta's chief medical officer of health said hospitalization rates don't meet the thresholds that would trigger mandatory restrictions.

"Putting in mandatory restrictions, again, is something that we absolutely have on that list of things to do if we start to see our health-care system being impacted beyond what it can achieve," Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.

"We have seen an increase in our hospitalizations, and in the past few days we have had more people in hospital with COVID than we ever have before. So while we have not met that trigger, it is critical that we all work together."

Hinshaw introduced voluntary measures on Oct. 8, nearly two weeks ago. Since then cases have continued to increase, as have hospitalizations.

Asadi would like to see gatherings restricted to 10 people, and wants to limit restaurants to 50 per cent of their capacity, along with a curfew on alcohol sales or a temporary closure of bars.

She said Albertans would be understanding if restrictions were introduced for a limited time to help decrease the number of cases in the province, as happened back in April.

"Huge sacrifices were being made at the time, and nobody wants to go back to that level of stringency," Asadi said. "But I think Alberta and its institutions have shown that they're more than able to respond appropriately, like the lab has ramped up its testing dramatically. They've hired a lot more contact tracers.

"And I also think that the sooner we act, the less strict we may need to be in the long run."

Ladha said economic concerns and civil liberties may be reasons for not introducing mandatory restrictions, but she worries things will get worse if no further action is taken.

"If some restrictions aren't put into place right now, the impact on the economy long term, if we have to return to a full lockdown, will be much, much more damaging than if we are able to put in no more minimal restrictions on a rolling basis to keep things under control."

'A matter of debate'

Hinshaw said it's a matter of debate whether mandatory measures should be introduced now versus waiting for hospitalization metrics to be reached.

"There are always risks and benefits," she said. "If we were to put in place mandatory measures right now, we would be putting them in place before we knew if we were able to turn that tide without the mandatory measures.

"We know that restrictions have an impact on other aspects of people's health. And if we don't need to use mandatory restrictions, then that would be the ideal scenario where we can get through this with people's collective efforts and mitigate the impact on all those other determinants of health that we know are so important."

About the Author

Travis McEwan

Videojournalist

Travis McEwan is a video journalist who has not won any awards. Originally from Churchill, Man., he's spent the last decade working at CBC Edmonton. Email story ideas to travis.mcewan@cbc.ca

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