Doctors express outrage over Alberta's plan to eliminate COVID-19 quarantine rules

"What the hell."

Those were the words spoken by Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room physician in Calgary, who believes the Alberta government is putting the entire province at risk with its latest plan to eliminate COVID-19 quarantine rules.

“It’s insane, it’s this incredible experiment of how many people we can get sick, have long term disability and possibly die, like who does this to their own public?" he said.

As of Thursday, the province announced quarantine for close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases will no longer be required, only recommended.

Beginning Aug. 16, isolation following a positive COVID-19 test will also no longer be required, although still strongly recommended.

Masks will still be required in hospitals and continuing care facilities, but the province-wide mandate will be lifted for taxis, transit, and ride-share, along with schools. 

The decision is now striking a nerve with dozens of doctors including infectious disease expert, Dr. Leyla Asadi.

“It didn’t have to be this,” she tweeted.

“Our government and public health officials didn’t need to gamble like this. The choice isn’t between going back to lockdowns or stopping all public health interventions for a novel pathogen against which only 64 per cent of the population is immunized.”

Asadi particularly took issue with the province’s removal of routine asymptomatic testing for close contacts of COVID-19 and new protocols which won’t require contact tracers to call close contacts of the virus.

“We could have added on rapid tests, undertaken airborne mitigation strategies with better masks/ ventilation/ filtration, we could have paid people to take time off when sick,” Asadi tweeted.

SHANDRO: ‘DECISION BASED ON SCIENCE AND DATA’

When responding to questions from reporters Thursday morning, Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro commended the work of Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw 

He says the decision to remove quarantine rules was discussed for weeks and months and made based on what Shandro calls a "milestone" in having 65 per cent of the population age 12 and up fully vaccinated. 

“We live with a virus in our community and this is now a virus that is preventable by vaccines,” Shandro said. 

“I’m not a physician, but this is a plan that is based on science and based on the data. We know throughout the last 16 months there are folks that have had anxieties on both ends of the political spectrum, who have had difficulty in believing the work that has been done in this pandemic response, but this is work that was done by public health based on the signs and baseline data."

Shandro says it was "irresponsible" for people to target Hinshaw’s work on the pandemic file, noting that her "deference, credibility and independence" should be trusted.

The province says Hinshaw and about 16 public health experts in her office, along with others in public health, the Ministry of Health, and Alberta Health Services helped to make the decision. 

CTV Calgary asked VP of Alberta Health Services, Dr. Mark Joffe if he was consulted and if he endorsed the decision.

“We were aware of the discussions ongoing,” Joffe said.

“The discussions occurred primarily with the public health teams, both within Alberta Health and within Alberta Health Services, so the public health teams were certainly involved, engaged, and consulted along the way."

This is a business decision. This government has never done the right thing when it comes to the pandemic, and now it’s clear that they’ve figured out what they consider acceptable losses to make this go away. Those losses will be friends and family. No one else is doing this. https://t.co/HIMCqq4NZq

— Darren Markland (@drdagly) July 28, 2021

there is nowhere in the world where you do not have to isolate after testing positive for covid — except for Alberta, Canada. this is shockingly anti-science/public health.

— Andrew Baback Boozary MD (@drandrewb) July 29, 2021

Just how insanely bad is Alberta’s new covid approach?

- tests only available if you are so sick that you need treatment

- those who test ➕ need not isolate (irrespective of vaccination status)

- infected children allowed to attend school (in person, w/o masks) pic.twitter.com/1dof25rGqL

— Ilan Schwartz MD PhD (@GermHunterMD) July 29, 2021

We could be incentivizing vaccines with something as small as a grocery store voucher, we could be implementing vaccine passports, we could mandate vaccines for health care workers, or we could be do ring vaccinations for outbreaks.

— Dr. Leyla Asadi (@LeylaDAsadi) July 28, 2021