Edmonton

Province's 3-week COVID-19 measures not enough to avoid crisis, Edmonton doctors say

The Alberta government’s new measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 cases fall short of what’s needed to avoid a crisis in hospitals and in the health care system, Edmonton doctors say. 

'We're awfully close to the precipice of a complete disaster in Alberta,' doctor warns

As of Tuesday, nearly 350 people with COVID-19 in Alberta are in hospital, with 66 in ICU. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Alberta government's new measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 cases fall short of what's needed to avoid a crisis in hospitals and in the health-care system, Edmonton doctors say. 

Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease physician and assistant professor at the University of Alberta, paints a grim picture of the province's current COVID-19 situation. 

"We're awfully close to the precipice of a complete disaster in Alberta," Schwartz said.

Intensive care units are being pushed beyond their capacity, with COVID-19 patients taking up a large portion of that space, Schwartz said in an interview with CBC News Tuesday. 

Schwartz noted that 66 COVID-19 patients are in ICU right now while the province had previously designated a capacity for 70 ICU beds for patients with COVID-19. 

"So clearly we're already brushing right up to that maximum capacity."

Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro declared another public health emergency and announced new mandatory restrictions on social gatherings and businesses for three weeks. 

Starting Friday, most retail businesses, such as liquor, grocery, pharmacy and clothing stores must limit their capacity to 25 per cent of allowed occupancy under the Alberta Fire Code. 

Retail businesses had been limited to operating at 50 per cent capacity since mid-May.   

Starting immediately, all indoor social gatherings are banned, Kenney said. 

The province will allow bingo halls, water parks, racing centres and casinos to remain open.

Restaurants, pubs and bars may remain open at 25 per cent capacity, with a maximum of six people at one table from the same immediate household, Kenney said. 

Schwartz said there are contradictions in the measures. 

"The definition of social gathering seems to be fairly arbitrary because it doesn't seem to include going to bars or going to a casino," he said. 

Dr. Shazma Mithani, an emergency room doctor at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, also took issue with the premier's messaging about the measures being designed to target where spread was occurring. 

"With our contact tracers being overwhelmed, we still don't know where 80 per cent of people are getting COVID from," Mithani said Tuesday. 

"So to say things like restaurants are not a significant source of spread and bars and casinos are not a significant source of spread, we actually don't know that because we're missing so much of that data."

Measures too late

Alberta's spiking cases made front-page headlines for several days before Kenney announced new measures on Tuesday. 

The measures also come three weeks after hundreds of doctors signed letters urging the province to implement a two-week circuit-breaker lockdown. 

"It comes clearly too late to be meaningful," Schwartz said.

Schwartz said he expects things to look worse mid-December. 

"We know that even if we completely abated transmissions today, we're still going to be in trouble in three weeks from now," Schwartz said. "And so to implement these measures for three weeks seems short sighted."

Mithani said the province needs to be on board with the federal contact tracing app, to help collect data on where Albertans are contracting the virus. 

@natashariebe
 

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