Edmonton

Still no timeline for Alberta Health to release data used in COVID-19 decision making

There is still no timeline for when public health data used to justify changes in Alberta’s COVID-19 regulations will be made public, a week after the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, again apologized for failing to release the information.

Evidence used to justify changes in pandemic response coming 'in the near future'

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, apologized last week for failing to release internal health data used to shape the current public health orders for COVID-19. Alberta Health said Friday there is still no timeline for when the data will be released. (Government of Alberta)

There is still no timeline for when public health data used to justify changes in Alberta's COVID-19 regulations will be made public, a week after the province's chief medical officer of health again apologized for failing to release the information.

No date has been set for the release of data that Dr. Deena Hinshaw promised to deliver, a spokesperson for Alberta Health said in a statement to CBC News.

'Committed to transparency'

"Dr. Hinshaw has committed to releasing modelling data, and this will be completed in the near future," Alberta Health spokesperson Lisa Glover said in the statement Thursday. 

"We are committed to transparency and have provided Albertans as much data and information as possible throughout COVID-19." 

Alberta Health did not answer questions about what had caused the continued delay but said Hinshaw's team continues to work to provide "more information." 

Health-care workers and critics of Alberta's pandemic response have been asking that the information be made public since the province announced it would claw back public health restrictions about a month ago. 

Since then, cases have surged. Alberta is leading the country in daily new cases while active cases and hospitalization rates continue to grow.

Delay undermines public confidence: doctor 

The delay is unacceptable, said Dr. Shazma Mithani, an emergency room physician who works at Edmonton's Royal Alexandra Hospital and the Stollery Children's Hospital.

The lack of transparency undermines public confidence in Alberta's pandemic response, Mithani said Friday.

"If the data was enough for Hinshaw to take some pretty extraordinary measures … I would expect that data would be pretty compelling," she said. "It certainly makes me wonder what the strength of the evidence was."

Hinshaw was due to release the figures last Thursday during a forum with frontline health-care workers. She said her team needed more time to "finish synthesizing" the evidence.

"I'm sorry that it's not available," she said during the online session where she faced criticism from her peers for a lack of transparency.

"Unfortunately, this is not something I can do by myself, and it's also something we can't release without moving through all of the processes that are necessary in government."

Hinshaw said she had no interest in releasing the data "in piecemeal." She said the information would be released in a "narrative" style report that would make the data easily understood.

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Alberta Medical Association's Dr. Michelle Bailey tells, Power & Politics, the delta variant and the lack of more pandemic measures contributed to an increase in cases in the province. 7:05

Province stalled plan to lift some measures

On Aug. 13, as infection rates began to surge, the province stalled plans to lift a slate of public health measures that had been set to expire Aug. 16 — including mandatory isolation, public testing and mandatory masking on transit.

While some of the protocol changes were delayed by six weeks, many pandemic restrictions had already been dropped. Quarantine for close contacts is no longer mandatory, but recommended. Contact tracers no longer notify close contacts. Asymptomatic testing is no longer recommended. 

Mithani says the province has been tepid in its response to the fourth wave driven by the delta variant — a situation she believes has been made worse by the recent change in COVID-19 protocols. 

"There's essentially radio silence," she said. "People were concerned that delta was on the rise, and that ICUs and hospitalizations were on the rise, and that's what happened."

Alberta announced its highest new case number in months Thursday as 1,112 new cases were reported. 

There were 308 people in hospital for COVID-19 as of Thursday, including 64 in intensive care. There are now 9,066 active cases in the province. Four more deaths were reported Thursday. 

This is not the first time Alberta has failed to release data related to the pandemic that it had promised to make public. 

On Jan. 20, Hinshaw indicated that sector-specific transmission data would be released to the public. Alberta Health did not respond to questions about their failure to release this modelling as promised.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

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