Original Published on Jun 29, 2022 at 11:12

By KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As June draws to a close and summer festivities kick off across the province, Alberta’s government continues to endorse a ‘return to normal,’ despite objections, warnings and pleas from frontline healthcare workers.

In the province’s last regularly scheduled COVID-19 health update, held June 22, Health Minister Jason Copping and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reaffirmed their confidence in the government’s decision to remove all public health measures — including indoor masking and mandatory isolation for those with COVID-19.

“All the indicators continue to drop, including our PCR test positivity rate and wastewater levels” Copping said. “(While) we continue to follow the data and make the best decisions on public health measures that we can — balancing the risk from the virus with the burden of public health measures — we’re entering a phase where the pandemic response can be de-escalated.

“Together we’ve taken another step forward as a province in returning to a more normal way of life.”

While indicators, generally, signal a downward trend, many still exceed the rates recorded at this time last year.

On June 29, 2021, COVID-19 hospitalizations across the province were 130, five times less than the most recent number of 661. As of June 30, 2021, Medicine Hat’s wastewater levels were at 1.5975 genetic material per millilitre of water, compared to the most recent reading of 9.4904 g.m. per millilitre.

While government continues to cite current COVID numbers as an achievement indicative of the pandemic’s end, many frontline healthcare workers are expressing concern over what they feel is both action disregarding of expert opinion and rhetoric devoid of retrospection.

“COVID’s not over,” local doctor and president of the Alberta Medical Association’s section of emergency medicine, Paul Parks, told the News. “We’re still diagnosing it and we’re still admitting some patients with it. And there’s actually a lot of respiratory illness out there right now, which is very atypical for June.”

Parks, who works in Medicine Hat Regional Hospital’s Emerge department, has, throughout the pandemic, been vocal about the state of Alberta’s public health system, something he says government officials have turned a blind eye to.

“What we’re seeing on the front lines is that we’re almost right on the brink of potential collapse,” Parks said.

While Parks understands the desire to return to normal, he feels the province’s most recent actions do little to protect Albertans. Especially as COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses continue to spread, generating demand for a health-care system already enduring access block and backlog.

“The political environment is what’s complicating the ability to care for patients these days, by a mile. And the government is downplaying it,” Parks said. “The government is using words like ‘strain’ and pretending a lot of the cases coming forward are one-offs, but it’s not true.

“This government has spent over two and a half years attacking the medical profession, not just physicians, but every allied healthcare worker in the system.”

While Parks says Medicine Hat has escaped some of the issues larger centres’ health-care systems are facing, the implications of government policy are felt here as well, something Parks hopes area residents keep in mind, despite government claims all is returning to normal.

During his June 22 update, Copping assured Albertans he and other officials “are not forgetting about COVID.” Yet, among the many statistics Copping provided, he made no mention of 4,604 Albertans who died as a result of COVID.

Medicine Hat has lost 101 people to COVID.

This item reprinted with permission from Medicine Hat News, Medicine Hat, Alberta