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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Alberta backs down on relaxed COVID-19 measures, pauses testing changes for 6 weeks

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EDMONTON — Amid rising hospitalizations and case counts, Alberta is backing down from its plans to abandon COVID-19 testing and eliminate isolation rules until late September.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, made the announcement Friday morning. 

“It is important to take some additional time to monitor the situation,” she said. 

These policies were slated to end on Monday but will now remain in effect until Sept. 27: 

  • Mandatory masking orders in publicly accessible transit, taxis and ride-shares
  • Mandatory isolation for 10 days for those with COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test result
  • Testing at assessment centres for any symptomatic individual

Dr. Hinshaw cited rising hospitalization rates that had exceeded projections by more than 60 per cent.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Alberta hospitals has grown from 91 at the start of the month, up to 146 as of Thursday’s data report. 

The 36 Albertans reported Thursday to be getting COVID-19 care in intensive care units is the highest since June 27. 

Dr. Hinshaw also cited growing evidence about the Delta variant’s effect on children.

She stressed getting vaccinated remains “the number one most important thing” Albertans can do.

Not all previously announced changes to COVID-19 measures are being paused. 

The province does not intend to resume contact tracing of close contacts of postive cases.

Those close contacts also remain recommended, but not required, to quarantine.

Asymptomatic testing remains no longer recommended.

“It is still important for us to work towards a sustainable approach towards COVID-19 that considers the harms of interventions as well as the direct harms from COVID-19,” Dr. Hinshaw said. 

The proposed changes drew a strong backlash from the province’s medical community and sparked demonstrations in Calgary and Edmonton over the last two weeks. 

Opposition health critic David Shepherd called on Premier Jason Kenney to apologize to Albertans. 

“Testing, tracing, isolation are the most basic health measures, and Jason Kenney was ready to destroy those protections for his own political gain.”

Medical experts welcomed the news, but cautioned the government’s temporary reversal will do little to actually slow the spread of COVID-19.

That’s phenomenal news,” said Dr. Noel Gibney, co-chair of the Edmonton zone medical staff association pandemic response committee.

“I couldn’t imagine that they would be able to continue with the changes.”

Dr. Gibney warned that if case counts and hospitalizations continue to grow, further changes to public health measures could be required. 

“If we just let this run out without any sense of what’s happening … we will find ourselves in mid-to-late September with the hospitals being overrun.” 

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