Dozens of emergency room physicians and specialists say Alberta is on track to have at least 300 people in intensive care with COVID-19 by the end of May.
That would be double the current number, which is already a pandemic record and would be on top of another 150 patients expected to be in critical care for non-COVID ailments.
The doctors say those numbers would likely push bed space and staffing beyond capacity, leading to triage: a process where doctors decide which critically ill patients get life-saving resources, and which don’t.
“It is the constitutional responsibility and the moral duty of the government of Alberta to protect the health and lives of Albertans,” the 48 specialists wrote Tuesday in an open letter to Premier Jason Kenney.
“Alberta has still not implemented the necessary measures to break the transmission of infection.”
They urged more stringent health measures immediately, adding it’s not enough just to write them down: “It is also crucial that these measures be enforced.”
The letter writers include Dr. Noel Gibney, co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s pandemic committee.
Gibney, in an interview, said the solution for Kenney’s government is complex but also simple, especially when it comes to consistent messaging on the threat of COVID-19.
“We need some real leadership now,” said Gibney.
“It would be a tragedy for large numbers of people to get sick or die at a time when it just isn’t necessary and we’re so close to getting back to something that looks like normality.”
As of Monday, Alberta had 658 people in hospital, 154 of whom were in intensive care.
At the height of the second wave of the pandemic in December, there were more than 900 in hospital, but never as many as 154 in intensive care.
Kenney has said he expected to introduce later Tuesday stronger rules to arrest a surge of cases that has seen Alberta log the highest infection rates of any region in North America.
Kenney has also said triage is looming, warning Twitter followers on the weekend: “If we do not begin to bend the curve, our health-care system could very well be overwhelmed in a matter of weeks.”
Alberta has seen a thousand new cases of COVID-19 every day for almost a month. Over the last week, it was routinely over 2,000.
Kenney resisted stricter rules as late as April 26, saying existing restrictions were sufficient, that more people simply need to follow them and that stiffer rules would likely be ignored by a COVID-fatigued populace.
By Thursday, however, he announced school and gym closures in high-case hot spots in urban areas, including Edmonton and Calgary, saying restrictions were key to bending the curve.
But as numbers continued to soar over the weekend and hundreds of people showed up unmasked at a “No More Lockdowns” rodeo in central Alberta in open defiance of health rules, Kenney announced Monday that new measures were coming.
Critics have said Kenney and his United Conservative caucus have been one of the root causes of the failure of the province’s health restrictions. Almost half of the backbench is openly opposed to the rules and Kenney refuses to sanction them. Kenney has been accused of foot dragging on tougher rules on rural areas for fear of angering those who form his party’s core base of support.
Kenney has pushed back on those critics, saying he is pursuing a flexible, nimble middle path between those who want total lockdowns and those who want none.
On Monday, he added that now is not the time to lay blame: “One of the things I find regrettable about COVID from Day 1 is this tendency to try to politicize it and turn it into a blame game.”
Five days earlier, Kenney accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, which is in charge of acquiring vaccines, of putting Alberta in its current predicament.
“We didn’t have adequate (vaccine) supply in the first three months of this year,” said Kenney at the time. “That gave the variants time to spread, and that’s how we ended up in this third wave.”
More than 1.6 million Albertans have so far received at least one dose of vaccine.
Alberta currently does not allow indoor social gatherings and outdoor get-togethers are capped at 10 people. There are sharply reduced gathering rules for stores and places of worship. Restaurant patios are open, while entertainment venues like movie theatres and casinos remain shuttered.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2021.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press