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Alberta's deadliest COVID day shows province has relied on good luck, not good management

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Kenney in July. Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

Sunday was Alberta's deadliest pandemic day to date.

Twenty people died from COVID-19. There were 860 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the total of active cases to 10,031.

And one gets the feeling, given the Kenney government's determinedly lackadaisical response to the pandemic, that this is just getting warmed up.

Surely it was hubris to attribute the province's relatively low COVID-19 infection rates in the weeks after last spring's lockdown to good management and the common sense of Albertans, as Premier Jason Kenney seems to have been doing ever since.

That wasn't good management. It was good luck.

And while good luck is nice to have, it's not the best foundation on which to base long-term plans -- especially if you intend to ignore a lot of expert advice.

It should have been obvious that basing Alberta's pandemic response plans on over-optimistic assumptions and half-hearted voluntary rules would lead us to our current straits.

Indeed, it was obvious to many experts. But this is Alberta. Who listens to experts?

We had our own contact tracing app, and we were first! Except, unlike the "Trudeau tracing app," as the UCP called the federal government’s COVID Alert app, the Alberta version didn't work very well.

As we learned yesterday, thanks to Carrie Tait at The Globe and Mail, Alberta's own ABTraceTogether app has now been used to track exposures ... 19 times!

Meanwhile, Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw told yesterday's daily COVID-19 briefing, our overworked human tracers are having trouble keeping up. "With about 1,000 new cases a day, there are about 15,000 people every day who are new close contacts," she explained. "It is impossible to make phone calls to each one."

So you'd think we'd be adopting the COVID Alert app then, since it can do part of the job of human tracers.

No way! We'll be sticking with the Kenney tracing app. It's been improved, the province's issues managers insist -- although there’s some debate about whether it actually works any better than it did when Albertans were declining in droves to sign up for it.

Hinshaw also said yesterday what's been obvious to everyone else for days now -- "I would say, yes, we are in a second wave at this time."

It was only at the end of September, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a speech that we were entering the long-forecast second wave, that Kenney excoriated him. "Alberta is disappointed that instead of listening to Canada's provinces, the federal government doubled down on policies that will kill jobs, make Canada poorer and weaken national unity," the premier said.

Well, to give Kenney his due, the man obviously knows a thing or two about killing jobs and weakening national unity.

On Friday, in an update on contact tracing sent to Alberta Health Services staff, physicians and volunteers, Alberta Health Services CEO Verna Yiu and Senior Medical Officer of Health Laura McDougall warned that, "currently, capacity at Edmonton and Calgary Zone hospitals is frequently exceeding 100 per cent. Some units are seeing occupancy as high as 125 per cent."

"Much of this is being driven by the need to isolate COVID-positive or likely COVID-positive patients or close contacts," their memo continued. "Between Calgary and Edmonton, we have about 800 isolation beds, however we are currently using about 1,200 isolation beds, meaning some beds in multi-bed rooms cannot be used."

"In addition to this, more than 500 continuing care beds across all five AHS zones are currently closed due to site outbreaks. Patients who would normally be transferred from hospital to a continuing centre are having to wait longer in hospital. This also limits the number of available hospital beds."

Premier Kenney seems not to have fully grasped the limits a highly communicable disease like COVID-19 can put on hospital space, judging from his cheerful recent commentaries on the number of beds in Alberta's healthcare system.

Indeed, Kenney, tweeting yesterday from isolation, offered no commentary on Hinshaw's disheartening report, little about COVID-19 beyond vaccine news from the United States, but had lots to say about his government's efforts to cut "red tape," as the UCP calls health and safety and other necessary regulations.

For the families of the dead. Not a word from the premier.

Meanwhile, sharp-eyed observers of social media spotted a promotion for "an exclusive evening with Premier Jason Kenney and top politicians" at an Edmonton luxury car dealership.

For $1,000, the promotion said, 15 lucky participants can partake of wine and scotch with the premier, who then will be freshly sprung his second stretch of COVID-19 isolation.

Participants needn't worry about the 15-person limit on such affairs, the promoters must have assumed. It's strictly voluntary. (And never mind the optics of mixing booze and fast cars.)

Well, perhaps the premier will cancel that date when he's reminded of how he advised us a couple of weeks ago that "the single biggest thing people could do is just stop with the private parties and the social gatherings." Or maybe he'll only make a disembodied virtual appearance, as he's been doing lately.

The promotional post, at least, seems to have disappeared but for the inevitable screenshots.

Still, reading all this in one day, one can't help but be reminded of Pete Seeger’s anti-Vietnam-War anthem, "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy":

"We were knee deep in the Big Muddy, and the big fool said to push on."

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

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