Alberta Chief Medical of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is expressing some pangs of regret about how COVID-19 has been handled in the province over the last several months.
Speaking to Primary Care Network physicians on a Zoom call Monday, Hinshaw said she feels responsible for promoting the notion that COVID-19 was over earlier this summer. The province made the decision to fully open on July 1 and eliminate the majority of COVID-19 restrictions at that time.
“I feel very responsible for the narrative that has made it more complicated to try and put more additional health measures in place,” she said.
“Whether or not it was my intention, what was heard at the end of July was ‘COVID is over, we can walk away and ignore it’. That has had repercussions. I deeply regret how that has played out. I do continue to do my best every day, to provide my advice to the proxy decision-makers.”
Alberta has seen a significant rise of the virus since Hinshaw declared the pandemic had become an endemic earlier this summer.
The province has more than 18,000 active cases of the virus, with over 800 people in hospital, including over 200 in intensive care.
“Obviously, Alberta is in a significant crisis state right now, there is no dancing around that,” Hinshaw said Monday.
She said the transition to an endemic was made too quickly, based on available information at the time, that underestimated the Delta variant. She explained that the province had suspected cases might rise with the loosening of restrictions, but they expected that wouldn’t dramatically affect hospital capacity as it has.
“It was a very abrupt transition – I know it landed very heavily for many people – it felt like a 180-degree switch, which doesn’t help people understand that endemic doesn’t mean we’ve dusted off our hands and we’re ignoring this. It means we have to figure out a sustainable way to manage it,” she said.
“The expectations did not match reality and very shortly after we started the endemic path, we could see already from that comparison with actuals and the modelling data, within in a couple of weeks that we weren’t seeing the decouple we were expecting. We really had to shift and walk back.”
Hinshaw also examined the future of the virus and what the province’s approach might look like through the fall. She pointed to both Oregon and Washington, where ICU numbers peaked at what would be about 350 in Alberta equivalent. In those states, case counts started to come down on the other side of that total, although they have a lot of extra residual acute care capacity.
“One way or another over the next several weeks, we will be coming to the other side of the fourth wave,” she said. “In any wave, coming down the other side you have the second half of it. We’ve had a lot of cases already, we’re still going to see a lot of cases as we come down the other side. There is still, unfortunately, quite a while yet before we’re going to be through this particular wave.”