'Reduce community transmission': Alberta's former top doctor calls for more action on COVID-19

Alberta's former chief medical officer of health and a critical care physician penned a letter Sunday urging action from the province to slow community spread of COVID-19.

As hospitalizations continue to climb and the Canadian Armed Forces prepares to assist with patient transfers out of the province, Dr. James Talbot and Dr. Noel Gibney say the province needs to take action this week “to prevent more disease, deaths, and suffering.”

“Albertan’s hospital system, especially ICUs, are under more killing stress than at any time in the province’s history,” the pair of doctors said in a letter to the province’s new health minister.

“We are within days of being forced to implement a triage protocol which will force health care workers to make life and death decision on who will get scarce resources, like ventilators,” they wrote.

The doctors recommend mandating vaccine passports for entry into non-essential businesses and making vaccines mandatory for all provincial employees and agencies, like Alberta Blue Cross and the Workers Compensation Board.

In their letter, the doctors also said that while those measures increase vaccine uptake, “urgent actions” are necessary to “rapidly deal with the urgent crisis in Alberta” of rampant community spread of COVID-19.

To slow case growth, the doctors recommended the provincial government:

  • transfer ICU patients to ICUs in other provinces immediately;
  • restore contact tracing of patients who test positive for COVID-19;
  • mandate masking inside schools, including when students are seated at their desks
  • implement a series of “fire break” closures and restrictions for a minimum four weeks that shutter all night clubs, casinos, bars, indoor dining, and indoor exercise facilities; and
  • create capacity limits for places or worship, stores, and malls.

The letter was addressed to Health Minister Jason Copping who took over the portfolio this week from Tyler Shandro.

“Even if you were to implement the measures that we recommend today, it will take at least four weeks for them to have an effect on ICU beds,” the letter said. “Time is of the essence. Albertans deserve better.”

In a statement to CTV News Edmonton, a spokesperson for the health minister said “we’re supporting AHS in taking every possible step to continue to provide care to critically sick patients.”

“We have put proven measures in place to work to bend the curve and protect the health system,” the statement added. “Similar measures successfully overcame previous waves, and we are working hard to overcome this current crisis.”

The government is also “developing new efforts” to increase COIVD-19 vaccine uptake.

ICUs in Alberta are only "coping" because so many patients are dying. It's time to start transferring ICU patients to ICUs in other provinces and to implement a #FirebreakAB NOW to stop Albertans dying of COVID-19. https://t.co/SQtovZgswg via @yumpu_com

— Noel Gibney (@noelgibney) September 25, 2021

'AN URGENT NEED FOR ACTION'

In an interview with CTV News, Talbot attributed the situation Alberta is experiencing to the open for summer plan.

“When the government in July got rid of all the precautions, at the same time they guaranteed that this fourth wave was going to happen and that it would be so strong and that it would put intense pressure on the health care system,” he said.

“And then in August, when their own projections showed that, that’s exactly what was going to happen. They choose not to inform the public and as a consequence, there was a lost opportunity for individuals and businesses to make better choices.”

Talbot said the rise of deaths and hospitalizations in the province is a concerning trend that needs to stop and is entirely preventable.

“The longer the minister delays in taking action, the more people are going to join that total,” he added.

“The 20 per cent (who are unvaccinated) are clogging up our hospitals now and they’re depriving the rest of Albertans the opportunity to have a functioning health care system that’s there for them when they need it.”

The letter intended to show the sense of urgency that is needed to address the increasing amount of pressure hospitals are facing, Talbot said.

“We know the (measures we recommended) have worked in the past,” he said. “So we’re asking the minister to recognize that there’s a crisis and that there’s a need, an urgent need for action on the part of the government.

“We want to see the minister act with a degree of urgency that’s required to help save that system.” 

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson