UCP caucus chair suggests he is hoping to see accelerated COVID rates before decline in Alberta

Nathan Neudorf, UCP caucus chair, suggested Friday that he is hopeful the province will see an “accelerated case rate, but then a very quick decline” of COVID-19 as the virus makes its way through the more than 1.5 million Albertans that have yet to be vaccinated as of Aug. 26.

Appearing on Bridge City News, program based in Lethbridge, Alta., Neudorf spoke to the UCP government’s decision to loosen COVID-19 restrictions, now that cases in Alberta are soaring.

Alberta recorded 1,168 new cases of COVID-19 on Aug. 26 — several hundred more than any other Canadian province.

“Once these case numbers have gone through the unvaccinated, where do they go?” said Neudorf.

Neudorf said the fourth wave in other parts of the world, like the U.K., was characterized by a rise of case numbers followed by an “equally” rapid decline after the virus “finished going through the unvaccinated population.”

“I am very hopeful that we will see the same kind of trend,” the Lethbridge-East MLA said.

David Shepherd, NDP health critic, said in a statement on Friday that “the [UCP] plan is clear: let ‘er rip. This government will let the delta variant sweep through our unvaccinated population, causing more serious illness and death.

“I am in utter disbelief. The UCP has abandoned Albertans to the fourth wave.”

U.K. still facing high case counts

The U.K.’s fourth wave, which Neudorf spoke about as an example, peaked in July and case counts did rapidly fall in early August.

However, they have since risen quickly. Last week the country recorded its highest weekly case count since July. Deaths are also increasing, according to data from the World Health Organization.

Cynthia Carr, epidemiologist and founder of EPI Research Inc., said that trends in the U.K. can’t necessarily be compared to Alberta because there are many factors that can affect case counts. In the U.K., after infections resulting from the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship resolved and school had not started, case rates went down because those high-risk situations weren’t present.

“But that doesn’t mean that the population was protected. It just means there was a point-in-time event that went up and down,” said Carr.

“That doesn’t mean you can say, ‘OK, now we’re safe because that happened.'”

Risk of overwhelming health system

On Friday, Neudorf encouraged Albertans to look at the science of severe outcomes from COVID-19 and get vaccinated.

Of the 74 COVID patients in ICU in Alberta on Friday, all but two were unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, and 77.1 per cent of non-ICU patients were unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, according to Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.

More than a third of Albertans have not received a vaccine, a number that includes children under 12 who cannot be vaccinated.

Until rates improve, there is a risk to health care systems and the unvaccinated, say experts — especially as fall approaches and kids return to school.

“We’re not sure yet if we will be lucky like we were last year without an influenza season,” said Carr. “But certainly the combination of an influenza season and a portion of the population still at risk for severe health outcomes, it doesn’t take long for the health care system to be overwhelmed.”

Sarah Otto, a professor at the department of zoology at the University of British Columbia, is with a group that’s been doing COVID-19 modelling for Alberta. She said by email that if policies and behaviours don’t change, “the case load and hospitalization rates will ravage the health system” in Alberta.

Neudorf said the province’s plan regarding schools reopening is to monitor case numbers and “see what happens there.”

Carr said that carries a risk to children under 12.

“We need to protect them. And allowing a virus to run throughout an unvaccinated group is not at all protective.”

CBC News has reached out to Neudorf and the UCP caucus for comment.

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