A Message from Southern Alberta Doctors

The following is a letter delivered late March 29 2021 to Lethbridge Media outlets on behalf of the undersigned physicians:

We are writing to publicly express our concern about the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Alberta, and specifically Lethbridge and the surrounding area. As of March 27th, we have 508 active cases in the City of Lethbridge, and the numbers have been generally increasing. At the height of the second wave, we never reached or exceeded 300 active cases. It is important to remember that COVID hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths always trail increases in cases by 2-3 weeks. ICU demand can stretch even longer due to the prolonged stays required by the seriously ill. Although not widely made known, the Lethbridge ICU was at capacity during the tail end of the second wave, long after case numbers had been dropping for some time. It is a disease that is stubbornly persistent when it hits hard. Alberta has seen a consistent case fatality rate of 1.4%, and a hospitalization rate of 4.4%. A simplified projection suggests that each day we add 50 cases, we can expect to need another 2-3 hospital beds within the next 2 weeks, occupied for 3-10 days depending on severity. Our ICU also needs to cover severely ill patients in surrounding rural areas. As of last report, the south zone currently has the highest per capita rate of COVID hospitalizations in the province, and 10/14 ICU beds occupied by COVID patients.

We are all tired of the pandemic, the restrictions and the overwhelming impact it has had on our lives. Fortunately, with the vaccine rollout progressing the end is in sight, but we are not there yet. We ask the public and government officials to recognize that individuals and the health care system are both still at risk. Southern Alberta has been fortunate thus far to have escaped much of the damage this virus has inflicted elsewhere around the world, and that is in large part thanks to the collective efforts of so many of our citizens who have made safe and smart choices to protect themselves and others. The unprecedented lifestyle upheavals we have experienced over the past year are the reason we have escaped many of the dire projections of the past.

While we are fortunate that many of our most at risk of death seniors are now vaccinated, it is important to remember that the average age of a COVID ICU patient in Alberta is 58. Those with the most severe baseline health and fragility are often not admitted to the ICU as intensive care can be too invasive and taxing for the body to meaningfully recover from. The ICU is primarily a tool to keep alive those who are young and healthy enough to recover from a severe infection once it has run its course. If the ICU is unable to meet demand, those who could otherwise be kept alive are at greater risk. While evidence suggests the vaccines still prevent severe disease from the ever expanding variants of concern, there is still not enough data to know how well they prevent transmission. For that reason, even vaccinated people are currently still required to quarantine and miss work if exposed. This means we are still at risk of hospital staff shortages due to occupational or community exposure to COVID-19. Furthermore, in Alberta, family physicians and many other community (non-hospital) based health care providers still have not been offered vaccination. They continue to work at risk in a community with rising transmission.

We do not wish to instill fear, but do advise ongoing caution, and wise decisions. We join our voices to those of other physicians encouraging the provincial government to do its part to get Alberta over the finish line without an even larger third wave, vaccinate all front-line health care workers, and prepare for the additional health care resources that may be required in the south zone. Regardless of government action, we ask everyone to continue to do their part to protect themselves and others by taking efforts to limit community transmission. If we continue to look for ways to be safe, rather than for loopholes and exceptions, we can protect lives and livelihoods over the next few months. We know COVID-19 is most likely to spread where people are gathered in close proximity, unmasked, indoors for prolonged periods of time. Making efforts to distance, wear a mask (2 or 3 layers are superior to 1), meet outdoors where possible, and limit time together where any of those is not possible will reduce the risk of transmission. Limiting contact with individuals outside of a small cohort will also break community transmission chains.

Thank-you to all of you who have been doing your part this past year to combat COVID-19 and support the health care community. We know it has not been easy. Please keep up the efforts to prevent our community and hospital from being overrun by this virus. The vaccines are safe and are the best path back to normalcy. Please receive whichever one you are offered as soon as you are able. Eligible health care workers have happily received theirs in large numbers, and those not yet eligible are anxious to as well. The end is in sight, but let’s finish it properly and save lives.

With concern,

Dr Tavish Barnes MD FRCPC (Critical Care)- Lethbridge

Dr Parveen Boora MD FRCSC (General Surgery)- Lethbridge

Dr Richard Buck MD CCFP(EM) (Emergency Medicine)- Lethbridge

Dr Susan Byers MD CCFP (Family Medicine)- Lethbridge

Dr Rhona Capisonda MD FRCPC (Pediatrics)- Chinook Pediatric Clinic

Dr Tara Daley MD FRCSC (Obstetrics and Gynecology)- Lethbridge

Dr Ehi Eyayi MD CCFP(EM) (Emergency Medicine)

Dr Kevin Foster MD CCFP(EM) (Emergency Medicine)- Lethbridge

Dr Tony Gomes MD FRCSC (General Surgery)- Lethbridge

Dr Charlotte Haig MD CCFP (Family Medicine)- Lethbridge

Dr Nic Hamilton MD CCFP(EM) (Emergency Medicine)- Lethbridge

Dr Andrea Hargrove MD CCFP (Rural Family Medicine)- Taber

Dr John Holland MD FRCPC (Pediatrics)- Chinook Pediatric Clinic

Dr Cathy Horsman MD CCFP (Family Medicine)- Medicine Hat

Dr Rozemin Kizuk MD CCFP (Family Medicine)- Lethbridge

Dr Peter Kwan MD CCFP(EM) (Emergency Medicine)- Lethbridge

Dr Jay Malach MD FRCSC (Obstetrics and Gynecology)- Lethbridge

Dr Bilal Mir MD CCFP(EM) (Emergency Medicine)- Lethbridge

Dr Victor Onyebukwa MD CCFP (Family Medicine)- Lethbridge

Dr Lee Oviatt MD FRCPC (Respiratory Medicine)- Lethbridge

Dr Paul Parks MD CCFP(EM) (Emergency Medicine)- Medicine Hat

Dr Kristy Penner MD CCFP (Rural Family Medicine)- Crowsnest Pass

Dr Karen Robertson MD CCFP (Family Medicine)- Lethbridge

Dr Vanessa Rogers MD CCFP (Rural Family Medicine)- Crowsnest Pass

Dr Hollis Roth MD CCFP(PC) (Palliative Care)- Lethbridge

Dr Sharon Rowan MD CCFP (Family Medicine)- Lethbridge

Dr Ghazala Saif MD CCFP (Family Medicine)- Lethbridge

Dr Melissa Setiawan MD FRCPC (Anesthesia)- Lethbridge

Dr Parisa Shamsi Shahrabadi MD CCFP (Rural Family Medicine)- Crowsnest Pass

Dr Gregory Smith MD CCFP (Rural Family Medicine)- Raymond

Dr Julie Smith MD CCFP(EM) FCFP (Family Medicine)- Lethbridge

Dr Sean Spence MD FRCPC (Critical Care)- Lethbridge

Dr Adrienne Stedford MD CCFP (EM-PGY3)

Dr Michelle Thibodeau MD CCFP (Family and Hospital Medicine)- Lethbridge

Dr Jessica van der Sloot MD CCFP (Family Medicine)- Lethbridge

Dr Iffat Waheed MD CCFP (Family Medicine)- Lethbridge

Dr Nicoelle Wanner MD CCFP (Family Medicine)- Medicine Hat

Dr Dionne Walsh MD CCFP(PC) (Palliative Care)- Lethbridge

Dr Adam Wiebe MD CCFP (Family and Hospital Medicine)- Lethbridge

Dr Sean Wilde MD CCFP(EM) (Emergency Medicine)- Lethbridge

16 thoughts on “A Message from Southern Alberta Doctors

  1. Great article however I would like to offer a correction. The article implies that hospital based employees have been vaccinated, however sadly this is not the case. Radiology, lab, and many others in the hospital setting who care for covid positive patients everyday, have not been vaccinated. This is a gross oversight by government, as they put their lives on the line to care for up to 60 or more patients in a day.

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      1. Thank you for this clarification, all essential workers should be vaccinated before the general public in my opinion.

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  2. I was wondering how accurate the % numbers are on this post I’ve been in touch with AHS as well as staff at 2 hospitals here in southern Alberta which both have givin much different numbers on fatality and ICU rate. Wondering why all your numbers from different areas are so different?

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  3. The overall statistics are taken directly from the Alberta. ca covid statistics page: https://www.alberta.ca/stats/covid-19-alberta-statistics.htm#severe-outcomes

    These will be province wide averages, and I’m not privy to any more localized data or statistics, which may well differ from provincial averages. They may also differ from worldwide trends, as these numbers are based on our typical testing rates and background level of missed cases, which is going to vary from place to place and time to time, based on how good case surveillance is. As for hospital length of stay I could not find local data on it, but the range quoted reflects the general experience of local physicians I have spoken with. ICU occupancy is a fluid and ever changing number from day to day, so any mention of it is just a reflection of that point in time. I hope that clarifies things.

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    1. There is a good and balanced review here on the current state of ivermectin as a potential treatment for COVID-19. As with several previously hyped treatments, any benefit is not yet clearly established and it is too early to widely implement an unproven treatment. I believe it is being looked at in multiple ongoing clinical trials, as is appropriate at this stage of evidence. Medical history is full of treatments that look promising in “in vitro” studies and preliminary trials that do not pan out in the end. It is also important to point out that even should it prove to be beneficial, it will still not be a cure all in every case, and does not obliviate the need for infection control, immunization and critical care resources.

      Click to access if-ppih-covid-19-sag-ivermectin-in-treatment-and-prevention-rapid-review.pdf

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  4. As for the remark in the letter that most seniors have been vaccinated, I’m not sure how accurate that is either. I’m a 70 year old senior and have been trying to book to get vaccinated ever since I became elligable but have been unable to get one. I’ve called 811 several times and been told to call back. I’m on several waiting lists but have not heard back from any if them. Any of them I was actually been able to speak with someone they’ve said they aren’t getting any vaccine in and have no idea when they’re getting any.

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    1. Thanks for the clarification. The government has made a lot of noise about having all seniors in their facilities vaccinated, but it is harder to find information on community vaccination rates. I hope you are able to receive yours soon.

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