Alberta physicians urge province to release COVID-19 case modelling

·4 min read
People seeking COVID-19 tests wait at the doors of Edmonton's Expo Centre last month. Two Alberta physicians have penned an open letter asking for the province to release its COVID-19 modelling data.  (Dave Bajer/CBC - image credit)
People seeking COVID-19 tests wait at the doors of Edmonton's Expo Centre last month. Two Alberta physicians have penned an open letter asking for the province to release its COVID-19 modelling data. (Dave Bajer/CBC - image credit)

Two Alberta physicians who have raised the alarm on the province's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic are urging the government to release its case modelling projections.

Dr. James Talbot, Alberta's former chief medical officer of health, and Dr. Noel Gibney, professor emeritus at the University of Alberta school of medicine and a critical care specialist, said in an open letter on Friday that Albertans deserve to see the information the province is using to justify its resistance to stricter public health restrictions.

"Like most Albertans, we would like to know how long the fourth wave is going to last, how many more Albertans are projected to die and when we can expect elective surgeries to begin and ICUs to return to normal," the letter says.

"We believe Albertans should demand to see the data, the assumptions and the modelling used to make the decision to continue to do nothing."

The province is in the grip of a deadly fourth wave of COVID-19 that forced the government to seek assistance from the military, Red Cross and other provinces.

ICUs are overwhelmed and new records for hospitalizations are set regularly. On Friday, there were 1,066 patients with COVID are in hospital, with 263 in ICU.

Gibney, Talbot and many other physicians are urging Alberta to impose a three or four-week "firebreak", where all but essential businesses are closed to stop the spread of the virus.

Dave Bajer/CBC
Dave Bajer/CBC

Kenney has so far refused to consider it.

"We want to see the full impact of the latest rounds of serious public health measures that we introduced just 10 days ago, 10 or 11 days ago," he said at a news conference Thursday. "And that's where we are, as we continue to see real momentum on the vaccine program. "

Gibney said encouraging people to get vaccinated is a critical step but it won't help stop the current system crunch that is projected to get worse over the next month.

"The challenge is that we really won't get the levels of vaccination within the community to the point that they will make a significant difference in time to protect our hospitals and ICUs, " he said.

CBC News asked the Alberta government if it plans to release its modelling data, and if not, why. In a statement received Saturday, Steve Buick, press secretary to Health Minister Jason Copping, did not answer the question.

"The worst case informs contingency planning but as the premier said, we are working to ensure it does not happen, including the public health measures announced about two weeks ago," Buick wrote.

"We continue to watch the data and the impact of recent changes and will take further action if and as warranted, including most recently the implementation of mandatory vaccination for the public service."

Colder weather challenges

Independent modelling by Dean Karlen, a physics professor at the University of Victoria and a member of the B.C. Covid-19 Modelling Group, forecasts the fourth wave will peak in mid-October, which will continue to tax hospitals through to the end of the month, similar to what Kenney said Thursday.

There is some good news in Karlen's projections. When infections started their exponential growth at the end of July, case numbers increased by five to six per cent per day. The growth rate has now slowed to about one to two per cent per day.

However, cases won't peak until mid-October, which means admissions to hospitals and ICU will continue to rise until the end of October and early November. Karlen said the trajectory could be worse when people are forced indoors as the weather gets colder.

"That behavioural change could, in fact, drive growth again," Karlen said. "We saw that last year, starting in October in Alberta. There was quite a rapid rise and that continued, and that was that constituted the second wave."

Gibney is urging the Alberta government to take immediate action because waiting another two weeks means there will be no effect on ICU admissions until the end of October, which could be too late.

"There's no question that our ICUs will be overwhelmed, that the rate of deaths would increase and that it's almost certain that we will need to bring in the ICU triage protocol as we just simply will not have enough beds within Alberta to manage this."

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