OP-ED: MLA Nate Horner provides update on province’s COVID-19 strategy

Everyone wants to put this pandemic behind us, but in the mean time, take care and stay safe

Nate Horner

Alberta’s government has declared a state of public health emergency to combat the increasing severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. I want Albertans to understand the state of the province and why these decisions have been made.

COVID-19 is still a real threat to many Albertans.

The number of COVID patients needing ICU care continues to rise. In the week leading up to the announcement of additional public health measures we saw an increase of 29 per cent. Without the addition of 137 surge beds, provincial ICU capacity would have been at 155 per cent.

On October 1st, 237 of 263 total patients in the ICU were diagnosed with COVID, and roughly 79 per cent of Albertans in hospital are either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated.

The most heartbreaking statistic is that over the past 120 days, 100 per cent of COVID deaths in people aged 12 – 39 and more than 80 per cent of Albertans aged 40 – 69 were unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated.

The situation in Alberta has changed drastically, and our health care system continues to face severe capacity challenges.

AHS is now postponing almost all non-urgent, elective surgeries across the province to increase ICU space for COVID-19 patients.

In August, we believed we could move past the pandemic.

We thought COVID-19 was behind us, that’s how quickly the Delta variant has changed things in Alberta.

We as a government need to take responsibility, and that’s why we made the difficult decision to implement new measures to help protect our hospitals.

The Restrictions Exemption Program applies to some businesses (eg. restaurants, bars) and allows them to fully operate without restrictions when proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test can be shown while still following the mask mandate.

This was not an easy decision, nor one taken lightly.

We have to take these critical steps to prevent our health care system from being overloaded.

Over the past few months, our government has been connecting with industry associations from across the province. In those discussions, we heard strong support for a vaccine restriction exemption program.

I heard from many Albertans and business leaders that support a proof of vaccination policy if it would allow businesses to remain open. Surveys conducted by the large urban Chambers of Commerce showed that 70 per cent of respondents support a proof of vaccination policy in Alberta.

When including the perspectives of businesses in rural communities, the Alberta Chamber of Commerce survey found that among businesses impacted by the liquor cut-off restrictions, 54 per cent of respondents favoured either mandatory or voluntary proof of vaccination to limit restrictions on their operations.

In addition, since the announcement of the Restriction Exemption Program, we’ve seen the number of daily doses given nearly triple.

We know that restrictions can have a negative impact on businesses, but please know that our government has done everything we can to only bring in restrictions when they were absolutely necessary.

I do believe that the solution is right in front of us. Vaccines work and protect against severe outcomes, hospitalizations, and deaths, particularly in the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

In Stettler and the surrounding county, 58 per cent of eligible Albertans are fully vaccinated. If you are nervous, hesitant or have questions about the safety of vaccines, please speak to your doctor or health care provider and seriously consider how this vaccine can protect you, your family and Alberta’s health care system.

If your business has questions or needs clarification around the Restrictions Exemption Program, please reach out to my constituency office at (587) 774-0306.

Everyone wants to put this pandemic behind us, but in the mean time, take care and stay safe.

Nate Horner

MLA for Drumheller-Stettler