By Jacob Cardinal
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Despite lifting the majority of their COVID-19 restrictions, the Government of Alberta has announced public health measures that were set to expire this week will stay in place until September 27.
The restrictions remaining in place until the 27th are: Mandatory masking orders in public transit, school buses, taxis and ride-shares;
Mandatory isolation for 10 days for those with COVID-19 symptoms or positive test results; and Testing for any symptomatic individual.
Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said, “Since I made my previous recommendations, I have been watching local and international data closely, and two items have emerged that have led me to recommend that we adjust our approach and defer the changes originally scheduled for Aug. 16.”
Dr. Hinshaw cited delta variant cases in children in the United States and an unexpected rise in hospitalizations as the primary reasons for walking back their restriction plans.
“If monitoring confirms our original expectations that a rise in cases will not lead to high levels of hospitalizations, and we do not see evidence of increased risk for severe disease for children, we will proceed with implementing this next set of changes after Sept. 27,” she said.
Dr. Hinshaw said last week that despite the new restriction announcements, she hopes to get back on track with the province’s original re-opening plans.
“Ultimately, how we have managed COVID before widespread vaccine availability is neither sustainable nor good for the overall health of Albertans and we do need to consider making that shift, the timing of which will be informed by the data.”
However, recent COVID-19 projections from researchers in B.C. predict that Alberta’s fourth wave will reach 4,000 daily cases by September 15 if the province continues without restrictions.
That would be almost double the spread seen during the height of the third wave.
Caroline Colijn, a mathematics professor at Simon Fraser University who developed the projections with the B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group, said “What we see is a fairly large fourth wave in Alberta, which is probably similar to other parts of Canada.”
“It’s just because there are enough unvaccinated people around and transmissibility is high enough with the Delta variant. And we know this because it’s already transmitting and we’re already seeing exponential growth.”
In a Facebook post, Dr. James Makokis, a family physician from Saddle Lake First Nation, urged all eligible First Nation people to get vaccinated. He stated, “The immunization rates for First Nations children over the age of 12 are still low. Estimates are between 44-59.8% of over 12-year-olds are vaccinated in Alberta. We should be aiming for 100%.”
Dr. Makokis continued, “We have a young population (often the median age is 21 in some Nations). Our population is not the same as “Alberta.”
“We always protected our children and Elders, they are the Centre of our societies, with various levels of protection around them. Our Nations always did what was best for the future generations, so there would be future generations.
“Our Elders in the past enshrined the “Medicine Chest” in our Treaty for when we would need medicines to fight new diseases, like now _ they thought of us today.
“Many of our Elders today are still scared to get immunized. I have seen Elders and ceremonial leaders contract COVID, some have died as a result. The majority of people being hospitalized, in the ICU and dying from COVID are not immunized.
“The delta variant is causing the fourth wave of COVID.”
Dr. Makokis said that he and many other Indigenous doctors who believe in traditional medicines, ceremonies and healing practices have been immunized, because they believe in both medicines.
“We are tired, we have not had a break,” he said. “We have worked hard to protect our people. We need you to be immunized and to immunize your families and children if able.
“While Alberta will stop contact tracing and public health measures proven to work, our Nations still have poverty, excess of chronic disease (diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, kidney disease, COPD/emphysema), increased smoking rates, overcrowding, poverty, etc., none of which has changed during COVID. This continues to put our people at higher risk.
`We should not be fully opening up our on-reserve schools during this time. Our Nations and Peoples still have to be vigilant.”
Dr. Makokis concluded with a plea for everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated. “As someone who is 39 yoa, not fluent in Nehiyawewin, and feels a tremendous responsibility to maintain our teachings and has seen people become very sick with COVID (and limited resources to treat, also knowing the pervasive systemic racism in the health care system), we need you to be vaccinated,” he said.
“Younger generations feel immense pressure to carry our ways forward, we need our Elders, knowledge holders and language speakers around for as long as possible to give us more time to learn. Please get vaccinated.”
The Government of Alberta has done a projection model of their own but have yet to release it to the public. Dr. Hinshaw however, has said that the projections indicate COVID spread will reach its peak in early September.
As for current vaccination reports, 57.4 per cent of all Albertans are fully vaccinated against COVID, and 65.2 per cent have received at least one dose (or 76.7 per cent of those eligible).
There are approximately 4,438 active COVID cases across the province with 152 people being treated in the hospital.
Jacob Cardinal is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the ALBERTA NATIVE NEWS. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.