COVID-19: Hinshaw admits no specific threshold, cutoff to halt province’s reopening

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Wednesday that there are no specific numbers or cutoffs that the province would have to reach before it would pause or move backwards in its reopening plan.

The comments came after three separate media outlets, including Global News, asked Hinshaw to clarify what the benchmarks for metrics would be to put the emergency brake on Alberta’s Path Forward plan.

Read more: Alberta to lift some COVID-19 restrictions and reopen gyms, in-person dining Feb. 8

And it appears to contradict what Hinshaw said on Feb. 3, when she stated that specific benchmarks were being discussed and that the province was looking at having a “very low threshold.”

READ MORE: Kenney says COVID-19 R value isn’t ‘state secret’ but data still not publicly accessible

Instead, on Wednesday, Hinshaw reiterated how they province will be watching leading indicators of case counts, R value and positivity rate and whether there is a concerning growth in any of them.

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“It’s not about a specific number or crossing a particular threshold of a certain number of new cases in any given day.

“It’s about the change. It’s about the trajectory. It’s about the trends,” she said.

“So if those three trends indicate we’re seeing growth and we’re seeing sustained growth over time then that’s a very concerning metric that would mean we would need to pause or take a step backward in our path,” she said.

Click to play video 'COVID-19: Alberta will be looking at 3 indicators in determining next steps for reopening' COVID-19: Alberta will be looking at 3 indicators in determining next steps for reopening

COVID-19: Alberta will be looking at 3 indicators in determining next steps for reopening

Epidemiologist Dr. Kirsten Fiest with the University of Calgary said earlier on Wednesday that the lack of detail on benchmarks gives her pause.

Fiest points to the benchmarks the province had set in the fall with hospitalizations and ICU admission, when it said that triggers for shutting down were if 50 per cent of the province’s COVID-19 ICU beds were full and if hospitalizations rose five per cent over the previous two weeks.

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“We sailed right past them and they never did anything,” Fiest said.

“One part of me is thinking: ‘It’s nice to know,’ the other part is [thinking], ‘But will anything happen if we get there?’”

Click to play video 'Easing Alberta COVID-19 restrictions will be staged approach based on hospitalizations' Easing Alberta COVID-19 restrictions will be staged approach based on hospitalizations

Easing Alberta COVID-19 restrictions will be staged approach based on hospitalizations – Jan 29, 2021

Fiest said this type of information is important for the province to gain trust and confidence from the public.

“We need to have an understanding of what it will take to either move forward or move backwards. That’s the only way people will continue to comply with public health measures.”

The vague details around benchmarks for pausing or moving backwards in reopening are reminiscent of how the province was not previously releasing the virus’s R value and the lack of detail released about the province’s plan for Phase 2 of vaccine rollout.

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Premier Jason Kenney, when asked again about vaccine priorities on Wednesday, pointed the finger at the federal government and the issues surrounding vaccine supply.

READ MORE: Alberta health minister blames feds for scarce details on Phase 2 COVID-19 vaccine plan

“We’ll be releasing our priority lists for the next phases of the vaccine distribution program pretty soon but frankly we wanted to see what other provinces were doing,” he said.

“Secondly, I frankly don’t understand the huge rush because we haven’t even really gotten into Phase 1B yet. We don’t have enough vaccines and that is the issue.”

No specifics about who is involved in Phase 2 have been shared with the public. Health law and health policy experts have criticized this decision, saying the public has a right to know what is involved with the rollout.

Click to play video 'Alberta continuing to work on various phases of COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans' Alberta continuing to work on various phases of COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans

Alberta continuing to work on various phases of COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans – Feb 10, 2021

“People want to have some idea. They need to have some sense of when, in a systematic way, they are going to be able to get vaccinated and then continue on a bit with life,” Blake Murdoch, with the University of Alberta Health Law Institute, said.

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READ MORE: Health law, policy experts criticize Alberta’s lack of Phase 2 COVID-19 vaccine plan

John Church, a health policy expert at the University of Alberta, argues that the province has run into a public relations problem with the management of COVID-19, as well as other policy issues.

And he said that is driving the speed of which details are being released.

“The government is being very cautious about how they provide information and what information they are providing because they don’t want to, for example, over-promise on what they’re going to do with the rollout of the COVID vaccine and then have that fall apart for a variety of possible reasons,” Church said.

“They’ve had so much go wrong for them politically in the last several months, they are going to be pretty gun shy about doing anything prematurely that might add fuel to the fire around that.”

READ MORE: Experts levy criticism at province over failure to disclose Alberta’s R value

The issue with data, specifically COVID-19 data, comes at a time when the province is conducting a survey about the data it shares with the public.

The COVID-19 Data Study was launched on Friday and is intended to improve the quality of online information that is shared with Albertans.

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“Since the start of the pandemic, when Alberta launched the first comprehensive online dashboard in Canada, we have continually expanded and improved our approach,” said Alberta Health Spokesperson Tom McMillan.

“This sort of research is a best practice to make sure we are continually aware of better ways to present online information to meet Albertans’ needs.

“We want the information to be presented as clearly and usefully as possible.”

A survey will filter who is eligible to participate in the research, and there are currently no plans to release the findings.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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