SUNDRE — Whether the Alberta government is following the science or the populist wind when developing health policy is a difficult question, a local doctor says.
“When I look at what the premier is saying, I think he’s got a leadership race coming up, and that’s really taking his focus,” said Dr. Michelle Warren, who runs the Moose & Squirrel Medical Clinic alongside husband Dr. Rob Warren and is also serving as the 2021-22 Alberta Medical Association president.
Premier Jason Kenney, whose UCP government announced last week the lifting of most provincial mandates as part of the second phase of the reopening strategy, has a leadership review coming up on April 9 in Red Deer.
However, Warren, who said she speaks on a fairly regular basis with Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping, told the Albertan that “He’s taking the science seriously as it’s brought forward to him. At the end of the day, nobody wants a repeat of last summer.”
She said the provincial government's Best Summer Ever reopening plan wasn’t so much the issue, but rather the foot-dragging response afterward when the government delayed any meaningful action until the fourth wave was already surging.
People are tired and long to return to a semblance of pre-pandemic normality, which the physician fully empathizes with.
“I understand that thinking because I’m right there with you — I can hardly wait to go travel again,” said Warren. “But I’m also a realist, and I recognize that just wishing something were different, doesn’t make a change.”
Asked for her thoughts on Kenney’s decision to amend provincial legislation that will essentially ban municipalities from putting their own policies in place after the premier had previously stated less than two years ago that regionalized responses were more reasonable than a heavier top-down, province-wide approach, she said, “He needs to look very, very carefully at the population in Alberta. My advice to him, would be Albertans don’t like being told what to do. We’ve seen that over and over again.”
Many Albertans including the premier, she said, have expressed opposition to the measures employed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in resolving the convoy protests that blockaded international borders with the U.S. and shut down Ottawa for almost a month.
“How is this different?” she said, adding the premier should ponder his course of action in dictating to municipalities “very, very carefully. Because it may boomerang back on him, and I think it probably will be used against him.”
Measures boil down to common sense
Regardless of whether public health policies are mandated by people in positions of authority, Warren said the reality is a lot of the measures that help to keep everyone safe boil down to common sense.
“If you’re sick, stay home,” she said.
While people have in the past often worked through colds for example, they were also actively spreading those bugs to everybody around them along the way, she said.
“Where people get the most upset, is when they’ve been exposed to this virus intentionally by people who knew that they were unwell,” she said.
“If you are feeling under the weather, then wear a mask. The idea of that mask is really to stop your germs from being spread wide into the world and keep it in your own personal space."
She added that maintaining physical distancing is also important in those situations.
Recognizing that many people who live paycheque-to-paycheque are not in a position to take time off work for fear of lost income, Warren said she “absolutely” believes more support is needed to ensure workers can stay at home to recover safely without feeling the stress induced by the uncertainty of being unable to pay rent or put food on the table.
“One of the things our clinic does for our staff, is if they have to take time off because they’re isolating either due to COVID exposure or they’re ill, is we pay their salary. And it doesn’t come out of their six days,” she said.
COVID-19 is not about to go anywhere anytime soon, and learning to live with the virus means making adjustments, she said.
“Historically, most pandemics take three years to resolve — we’re in year 2,” she said.
Even experts cannot predict the future, and the possibility exists that the next wave might yet herald even higher levels of mortality, she said.
“Our take-home message: nobody knows,” she said.
Fortunately, she said most people seem willing to do what’s necessary to help keep one another healthy.
“It’s to be compassionate to understand that people who are continuing to wear masks and continuing to require masking in their place of business if they’re dealing with people at risk, aren’t doing it out of fear or to be mean,” she said.
“They’re doing it because they understand the science and want to keep people safe.”
Warren said she continues to don an N95 mask when visiting local businesses such as the grocery store or a restaurant.
And of course she is always masked when intubating or putting into palliative care a patient with COVID. Along the way, she said she’s held up smartphones and laptops so families can say their final farewells. Others who survived but never fully recovered, struggle with long-term effects that by extension can also cause depression, she said.
But masks are just one part of an equation that is not flawless and also involves distancing, isolating when unwell, and vaccination, she said.
“There’s no silver bullet out there. There are just layers of protection, and nothing is perfect," she said.