Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

Alberta’s chief medical health officer publicly criticizes staffer who leaked info

EDMONTON — Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, dealing with rocketing COVID-19 case numbers, is criticizing a member of her inner circle for leaking confidential information to the media.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw is to speak today on a CBC story tied to anonymous sources and audio recordings of meetings between Hinshaw and her colleagues who were developing recommendations to fight the pandemic.

The story references discussions in which Hinshaw and Premier Jason Kenney’s government have been at odds on some aspects of policy. It suggests Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s office has taken a direct interest in enforcement of public health orders with an eye to limiting tickets to violators.

Kenney has dismissed the allegations.

In a Tweet, Hinshaw says: “Trust has been broken.”

She goes on to say: “I appreciate the ongoing messages from Albertans and acknowledgment that the actions of a few have violated the trust of many.”

She adds: “I spoke to Jason Kenney and Tyler Shandro this morning to convey my disappointment with the irresponsible actions of one person.”

Hinshaw has found herself at the centre of a political firestorm in the legislature over the best way for Alberta to combat its surging infection rate.

The province, once a national leader in COVID-19 management, has some of the highest daily case counts in Canada. There have been more than 1,000 new cases a day for almost a week.

The NDP Opposition, along with some doctors and infectious disease specialists, has been calling for a short, sharp and sweeping shutdown to reverse the numbers and prevent intensive care beds from being overrun.

Kenney instead brought in new measures this week, which include reduced capacity for most businesses while keeping them open.

The tighter public health orders include a provincewide ban on indoor gatherings in people’s homes. There are tougher restrictions on bars, restaurants and pubs, retailers, casinos, movie houses, hair salons, schools, places of worship backed up by fines of $1,000 to $100,000.

The restrictions are to be reviewed in three weeks.

Kenney has said his goal is to save lives but at the same time keeping critical revenue flowing for workers, business owners and their families.

The New Democrats say the orders, and the absence of a provincial mask mandate, smack of arbitrary political decision-making that will ultimately put public health and the economy in peril.

The NDP has called on Kenney to release all the recommendations Hinshaw has delivered to his cabinet sub-committee to determine to what degree it is following her advice.

Alberta had 355 people in hospital on Wednesday, including 71 in intensive care, and health officials are working to move and reassign patients to free up more ICU beds for COVID-19 cases.

Contact tracing in the province is struggling to keep up with infections. The government says it doesn’t know where 83 per cent of the 13,719 active cases have come from.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2020.

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