'We are at a crossroads': Edmontonians continue calling on province to rethink pandemic response

Crowds gathered outside the legislature for the third straight day to protest Alberta’s latest COVID-19 response plans.

Rallies have been held since Friday in Edmonton and Calgary as the province announced it would scale back contact tracing, limit testing for COVID-19, and lift mandatory isolation rules this month.

Approximately 200 people attended the rally Sunday.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said last week that the shift from a pandemic to endemic response in Alberta with regards to COVID-19 is due in part to the increasing amount of fully immunized Albertans.

"The data shows that what the vaccines are doing is making it less infectious and less deadly,” he said. “That's a good thing that allows us to move to that endemic response."

Dr. Sue Reed, physician at the Grey Nuns hospital, said she attended Sunday’s rally because of concern that cases of COVID-19 would continue to spread in the community under the new pandemic policy direction Alberta is set to take later this month.

“I think the most concerning aspect is that we,” Reed shared, “are about to witness the dismantling of the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic which is not over. Stopping testing, tracing, and isolating puts many people at risk.

“I am double vaccinated,” she added. “Many people are not. We have many people who – for a variety of reasons are not vaccinated in this province, including all children under 12.

“Without basic public health measures we cannot protect those people. It’s a frightening prospect.”

Karlee Hren, a teacher, said she attended the rally to lend a voice to students who will be returning to classrooms in the fall.

“They need to feel safe in these schools and know they have people advocating for them,” Hren said.

“The children in this province deserve so much better than what the government is doing.”

Dr. Joe Vipond circulated an internal Alberta Health Services (AHS) email on social media this weekend that said the health authority would cease COVID-19 related screening by 911 dispatchers in mid-July.

“It means the government has prioritized pretending COVID is over, over the health of it’s employees,” Vipond said on Sunday. “It means a lot of sick paramedics and EMTS.”

In a statement to CTV News Edmonton, AHS said EMS is shifting to “readiness and recovery operations” and that “the majority” of paramedics have received both doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are very grateful that our paramedics have this level of protection,” AHS said.

“If our paramedics stop working because they feel unsafe; if our teachers stop working because they feel unsafe; how does this help Alberta?,” Vipond asked.

“We are at a crossroads for this province and if we don’t stand up, we are heading into a very dark period.”

Further rallies are scheduled to continue in both Edmonton and Calgary every day until Aug. 16.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Ryan Harding