Edmonton medical staff group calls for delay to move to Step 2 of reopening

The province has not officially said when Alberta will move into the second stage of the reopening plan for Alberta. Restrictions could begin relaxing March1, generating mixed response from doctors.

'We’re not out of the woods by any means, I hope nobody thinks that,'

Nurses prepare before attending to a COVID-19 patient in an ICU unit. (Submitted by AHS/Leah Hennel)

A group of Edmonton medical staff are calling on the province to delay plans to move forward with further relaxation of COVID-19 measures.

The Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association (EZMA) released a letter Friday saying that instead of moving to Step 2 of its reopening plan, the Alberta government should close bars and restaurants to indoor service or, at least, institute capacity limits. 

Dr. James Talbot, co-chair of EZMA's pandemic committee, worries that the province is getting ahead of itself. 

"You're virtually guaranteeing that you are going to miss the signal," Talbot said.

"They should be waiting longer if they are going to use hospitalizations [as a lagging indicator] and in fact they should be using active cases."

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer, said the province would not make a decision to further restrictions until Monday at the earliest.  After a steady decline since December, Alberta's daily new cases and test positivity rate have plateaued and showed signs of trending upward since the province entered Step 1 on Feb. 8, which included reopening bars and restaurants for in-person service.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Friday that the last week's worth of data still needs to be reviewed, but he wasn't anticipating a need to delay Step 2.

He said the data will be reviewed by government and public health officials on Monday before an official decision is made.

Talbot worries that opening banquet halls and conference centres — both a target for eased restrictions under the province's next step — could lead to so-called super-spreader events.

Further easing of indoor fitness guidelines is a concern for Dr. Raiyan Chowdhury, a critical care doctor at the University of Albeta Hospital.

"It scares me when places where you get a lot of people together, where it's hard to control everybody's behaviour [start to reopen]," Chowdhury said. "That's always a risk."

Co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association, Dr. James Talbot, would like the province to hold off on Step 2 of the reopening plan. (Andrew Jeffery/CBC)

He advises that mask wearing and physical distancing measures should be strictly adhered to at gyms and any indoor space.

Otherwise, Dr. Chowdhury is cautiously optimistic to move forward with Step 2.  

"We're not out of the woods by any means, I hope nobody thinks that … as long as [the province] is paying attention to the numbers, I think we're going to be OK."

Chowdhury said he was feeling burned out around the holidays but the pressures have eased slightly on frontline staff. He said they have been able to return to normal staffing levels on most units. 

"I think it will be a huge hit to morale if we see cases come up again," he said.

"I don't think anyone really wants to go through, or is prepared to go through, what we may have gone through at Christmas time. We're hoping now we can just tread water until this thing at least dissipates."

As of Friday's update from Alberta Health, there were 269 people in hospital, including 55 in ICU. The province said it would consider each step of eased restrictions based on hospitalization benchmarks, with the mark for Step 2 set at less than 450 hospitalizations.