It’s a question many ask: How long will this Alberta coronavirus isolation last?
And a by-product of that – when will physical distancing measures relax, gatherings be allowed and we start to re-open business?
It’s been addressed at different points over the past couple of days by both Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Through that information, we’ve tried to pull out key bits that could signal a re-opening of the province.
In the April 22 briefing, Premier Kenney said he’d be meeting with his relaunch working group the following day (April 23). They hope to have more details on the province’s relaunch strategy next week.
Dr. Hinshaw said she empathizes with Albertans wanting to open up and get back to a normal routine.
“I too want to get back to normal as soon as possible. The challenge we are facing, is that in some ways we are a victim of our own success,” she said in the April 21 briefing.
With the current public health measures curbing much of the spread across the province, Dr. Hinshaw said that we’ve succeed in our efforts so far.
“The temptation, we need to resist is to think that because we haven’t yet seen the spread that our model predicted that means the problem has gone away,” she said.
“That is not true. The virus is still with us, and we need to continue to take it very seriously.”
She compared it to a tidal wave that could have swept in – but didn’t because we built a strong barrier.
“We need to remember that the potential force of that tidal wave is still there,” she said.
To that end, she said public health measures will still be with us for many months to come.
Lower numbers than the model projected
Earlier this month, the province provided modelling on the number of cases they expected. It showed a mid-May peak of 800,000 cases. That number included both diagnosed and those with mild illness that goes undetected.
Now, nearly in the last week of April, Alberta’s case count sits at 3,401, with 66 deaths. The modelling predicted between 400 and 3,100 deaths by the mid-May peak.
It’s difficult to tell how many actual cases (detected or not) there are in Alberta at any time. The number of deaths, however, is a trackable number. To reach that minimum number (400), Alberta would have to experience an average of 15 deaths per day until mid-May.
Further, hospitalizations and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admissions were predicted to 818 in mid-May, and 232, respectively, in the probably model. As of April 22, there have been 159 hospitalizations so far, and 44 people have been admitted to ICU.
Both Dr. Hinshaw and Premier Kenney have publicly stated we are well below the original forecast model.
Dr. Hinshaw said she hasn’t seen any updated modelling to this point.
“What I want to remind people is that modeling is an estimate based on assumptions and our previous modeling was based on an assumption that every person who was infected would pass the virus to one or two other people and it would continue to grow in that manner,” she said.
She said that the modelling tells us what to expect, based on our behaviours. The models could be adjusted, but if the behaviours don’t match, then the models are no good.
“I think we need to move a little bit away from the modeling and really focus on what we’re seeing in actuality, and the fact that it’s under our control to change what the real situation is.”
Enough with the set up… When can we re-open?
Ultimately, Dr. Hinshaw said any re-opening would have to balance ongoing public health concerns with the support of physical, mental and economic success. She said if you’re looking for a fixed date, there likely won’t be one.
Part of the relaunch strategy announced by Premier Kenney when the modelling numbers were released, included ramped up testing.
That’s the first step. Right now, the province can accommodate roughly 7,000 tests per day. They want anyone with symptoms to go through the self-assessment online and then, if needed, use 811 to help schedule a test.
That provides added data points that allow the province to more accurately assess the continued risk to Albertans.
“I would really encourage any Albertan who is sick to get tested because that’s an important part of our ability to respond to know what’s happening with the virus,” said Dr. Hinshaw.
The other primary aspects of re-opening are prolonged stretches where hospitalizations and ICU admissions stay stagnant or decline, said Dr. Hinshaw. She’d like to see those trends last for between one and two weeks.
The same can be said for daily case numbers (relative to number of tests) and the number of deaths.
To date, these numbers are well below projections.
“I hope that means we’ll be get be able to begin the relaunch earlier than originally expected, but we’re just going to have to monitor these things very closely,” said Premier Kenney.
One area of concern is the localized outbreaks and the impact they have on numbers. Particularly ones linked to Alberta meat-packing facilities.
Even if we re-open, there will be rules
Dr. Hinshaw said the public health measures will be in place for many months. Handwashing, physical distancing, not going to work sick, large gatherings – maybe even mask use – will all continue to be regulated.
Right now, the province is working on guidelines around outdoor activities. They want Albertans to get out and enjoy the weather, clear their heads and get some physical activity. It needs to be done safely.
Dr. Hinshaw said the re-opening of parks and other outdoor recreation locations needs to be done with the safety of users and the staff that operate them in mind.
“We do know that people need to be able to exercise they need to be able to be outside. That is important. So again, we’re just wanting to make sure we do it in a way that’s safe for people,” she said.
With this goes the mistake of opening Alberta too early, said Premier Kenney. He said that while we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s because of the work we’ve done to this point.
“If we let the virus loose we would lose the value of all of the sacrifices that we have made to date, and we would simply have to shut down even more of our economy more harshly, and probably for a longer period of time, causing even more damage,” he said.