One day after the Alberta government moved the province back to Step 1 restrictions, 16 United Conservative MLAs published a public statement calling the enhanced measures “the wrong decision.”
Issued April 7, the letter acknowledges the real threats of Covid-19 but requests the government do a better job considering the needs of rural constituents.
In an interview with the Breeze, Livingstone-Macleod MLA Roger Reid said he signed the letter not because he lacked confidence in Premier Jason Kenney or the government but because he wanted to advocate for a regional approach to health measures.
“Population density, lifestyle, so many things play into the difference of the impact of Covid in our rural communities than ... in a higher-density urban population. The impacts to mental health, the impacts to families, the impacts to seniors, the impacts to small businesses play out differently out here,” he said.
“We’re 13 months into the pandemic and I really felt it was time to broaden the tool kit when we look at the restrictions in place.”
The MLA also emphasized the letter was not about denying the science behind Covid-19 or the seriousness of the pandemic.
“I personally know people who have passed away and I have friends who have lost family members due to Covid. I’m not a Covid denier,” Mr. Reid said. “I’m not on a side that says this is a hoax, but I believe that a year in with what we’ve learned, we have an opportunity to take a look at the economic, the mental health, and even the physical health aspects outside the virus itself.”
Currently, the province has a four-step reopening plan based on the number of hospitalizations resulting from Covid-19 and decreasing case numbers.
Although still below the 450 hospitalizations dictated by Step 2, government models projected case numbers would total over 2,000 a day, with hospitals being overrun with Covid patients by May, if further restrictions were not implemented.
As of April 13, 88 Covid-19 patients were in intensive-care units. There are 236 ICU beds across Alberta, though the province has the ability to redesignate other departments to create surge capacity. Such redesignations, however, limit what health services can be provided.
Though the hospital capacity is an important issue, Mr. Reid said the mental health and viability of rural communities deserves equal attention.
“The Covid pandemic is not only affecting our hospital capacity and ICU capacity,” he said. “It’s only part of the equation that we need to look at. The letter was my encouragement to say how can we find a way to look at a broader matrix when we put these restrictions in place, whether we increase them or relax them, because we’re seeing first-hand the effects of many other things besides the virus itself that the pandemic is having — not only on Albertans but people around the world.”
One of the main obstacles in implementing regional approaches to health restrictions is that care for individuals experiencing serious Covid symptoms is limited to urban centres. Just because an area might not have high case counts, the possibility of people contracting the disease presents an ever-present danger of straining available health resources.
One potential solution, said the Livingstone-Macleod MLA, is to offload medical treatment like non-essential surgeries to rural hospitals to take some of the strain off urban centres.
While initiating a regional approach would require more work at collecting data to determine individual circumstances surrounding positivity rates, Mr. Reid said the letter is a sign members of the UCP are willing to do more to help.
“Really, it’s just an affirmation that MLAs like me are here, ready to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work, make sure we bring the best solutions forward to Albertans to get us through this in the healthiest way possible,” he said.
Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze