April 23rd, 2021

Laying It Out: We only needed seven weeks but we ignored reality instead

By Medicine Hat News Opinion on April 3, 2021.

On Feb. 13, exactly seven weeks ago, this column discussed the growth of COVID-19 variants, warning cases were going to spiral out of control if we didn’t immediately do what was required to stop it.

Of course, five days earlier – even as they declared the concern for new strains to be very real – the Alberta government began lifting restrictions and touting the great job done by all in getting the virus under control following a brutal wave through December and January.

Of the 1,994 Albertans to die of COVID since the first death was announced March 19 2020, 1,088 were reported in those two months alone. The UCP had been warned by health experts since early October that COVID was going to blow up, but, aside from sending kids home on Nov. 30 to learn online, they waited until Dec. 8 to introduce any real province-wide restrictions, including a simple mask mandate.

Active cases at that point had reached 20,388, and the province added 1,727 on that day. By the time step one of reopening kicked in Feb. 8, it had taken exactly two months to shave that daily climb down to 269 – 25 of which were new variant strains.

The following Saturday, I used this space to wonder why we’d jumped the gun – why we were lifting the very policy that led to the falling case count. Why weren’t we just finishing the job we’d all missed the Holiday Season to accomplish? We’d lost nearly 1,100 Albertans in the prior 60 days and we were still going to (once again) voluntarily resurrect the virus that killed them.

It’s not like we didn’t have the undeniable evidence of immediate history to tell us what was coming, and it’s not like we didn’t have experts warning us that reopening would backfire.

Developmental biologist Gosia Gasperowicz from the University of Calgary, for one, had spent the entirety of the pandemic trying to warn us that half-assed attempts to “flatten the curve” were the wrong approach. She was among those trying to warn the UCP in October, and she was in the news again in February sounding the alarm to a government that wilfully ignores her every word.

Just as she has passionately pleaded for this past year, unless your goal is a rollercoaster of society-numbing waves and hundreds (or thousands) of preventable deaths, the only aspiration the science supports is a province with zero cases of COVID.

Active cases on Feb. 8 were 6,196, and since case counts are a few weeks behind policy decisions, they dropped to 4,811 by mid March. But then – just as Gasperowicz said would happen – they began to tick back up.

And up. And up.

As of Friday, just two and half weeks after beginning to trend the wrong way, cases were back up to 8,653. Variants of concern were at 2,820 (10 times what they were on Feb. 8, and 32.5% of the total active cases) and at this point it’s a matter of days until B117 (U.K. variant) is the dominant strain.

That’s a dangerous reality.

As reiterated this week by chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw, variant strains are more likely to cause serious illness and are more contagious. She also (finally) admitted vaccines, no matter how fast we are now rolling them out, are not yet established enough to curb an immediate wave, nor are we in the clear just because the oldest among us are receiving shots.

“I worry some think we will no longer have severe outcomes now that those 75+ have been offered vaccines,” Hinshaw wrote on Twitter. “In our 2nd wave, we saw a daily average of about 500 Albertans under 75 in hospital incl 119 in ICU & 5 dying each day.”

She went on to say the current average age of COVID patients in hospital is 62, while the average age of those in ICU is 58.

Premier Jason Kenney is once again citing personal responsibility as cases climb, claiming the accelerating spread is because Albertans are breaking the rules – not because he lifted restrictions in February. This is undeniably false, and further proof of his inability to do anything but blame others for every single problem.

For a man who acts as if he has the only handbook to a better Alberta, he sure enjoys pretending like his decisions have no effect on us. It’s one thing to keep pushing the no-longer-accurate narrative that Ottawa is shorting us on doses, but you know Kenney’s barrel of excuses is empty when he turns the blame on you.

People do what you allow them to do, and when the government allowed us to do more – after not supporting Albertans when they were forced to do less – the UCP welcomed a wave that has now arrived. And, guess what? Even Kenney, who on Wednesday said there would be no major lockdown measures, did say Thursday that further restrictions are coming if this trend continues – which it will.

On Feb. 13, exactly seven weeks ago, this column said the proper approach could have this all over by Easter. As the yet-to-be-wrong Gasperowicz has repeatedly said for a year, a proper lockdown would end this in seven weeks.

Seven. Weeks.

Well, Easter is here and we are into our 13th month of this pandemic. We’ve lost 2,000 Albertans and we are going to lose hundreds more at least.

Seven weeks ago this could have been all over in seven weeks. Seven weeks later, it’s just getting started. Again.

Scott Schmidt is the layout editor for the Medicine Hat News. Contact him at sschmidt@medicinehatnews.com

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