The Provincial Court of Alberta released documents on Wednesday that provide a glimpse into how Alberta’s United Conservative government decided when to begin removing provincial COVID-19 restrictions last February.
The documents, previously confidential, were ordered by provincial court to be produced after the parents of five immunocompromised children and the Alberta Federation of Labour sued the government over the decision to lift the mask mandate.
Premier Jason Kenney announced on Feb. 8 that the province would be lifting the vaccine passport system and only five days later, end the school mask mandate.
The decision was made shortly after the UCP COVID cabinet committee met and weighed options presented by Health Minister Jason Copping on how to move forward as Alberta moved from the pandemic phase of COVID-19 to the transition phase to the endemic phase.
The document states that Alberta would be leading the way into the endemic phase with a “gradual removal of public health measures” to decrease risk.
However, the document warns that “lifting restrictions should begin only once pressures on the health-care system have sufficiently eased and are likely to continue easing.”
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw provided recommendations to the government for going forward with lifting all restrictions, which included ramping up the capacity of the health-care system. She warned it would become overwhelmed and warned of additional waves as a result of increased exposure.
“She was right about all of her warnings and they just ignored them. And now we’re paying the price,” said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
Hinshaw gave three options.
The first was removing most restrictions, including removing masks in schools in Step 1. The second option kept more restrictions in place and retained the school mask mandate until Step 2.
The third option left all decisions up to the cabinet, the option cabinet chose.
“The big, big takeaway for me was just how focused this was on reopening being a key driving concern of our pandemic policy,” said Lorian Hardcastle, associate professor of law at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine.
“There’s a lot of criticism out there that the government’s approach at times favoured politics over what made sense from a public health perspective. And I think we see elements of that in this presentation.”
“From my perspective, it clearly shows that their eyes were focused clearly on politics, especially their narrow self-interest and politics, and not where it should have been, which is on public safety, especially for our kids.”
The government denies ignoring or overriding any of Dr. Hinshaw’s recommendations.
“The minister of health provided cabinet with three options, presented uniformly without a recommended option. Cabinet chose from those options,” Steve Buick, press secretary to the minister of health, wrote in a statement on Wednesday.
“We stand by our decision to lift public health measures, including ending mandatory masking in schools. It was the right choice for kids and it did not pose undue risk to our communities.”