Posted on Apr 19, 2021
KENNEY IGNORED AHS “EARLY WARNING TRIGGERS,” LIED ABOUT MODELLING, DITHERED FOR WEEKS AS PANDEMIC ENTERED DEADLY SECOND WAVE
EDMONTON - Premier Jason Kenney failed to act for weeks after the province hurtled past Alberta Health Services’ “Early Warning Triggers” of hospital overload and into the deadliest period of the second wave, newly released documents show
“Health professionals warned Jason Kenney weeks in advance that the rising case numbers would overwhelm Alberta hospitals, but he did nothing,” said NDP Leader Rachel Notley. “His weak and ineffective leadership made Alberta’s deadly second wave worse.”
The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, also reveal that both AHS and Alberta Health public servants were being actively discouraged from developing COVID models, but AHS disregarded this and developed them anyway. Kenney was briefed on this modelling work, which he then repeatedly lied about.
A September 25 briefing note laid out “Early Warning Triggers,” combinations of daily case numbers and R values that would lead to ICUs being overwhelmed even if restrictions were brought in that day.
Alberta’s daily case count accelerated past 500, the worst-case scenario number in the AHS analysis, on October 30 and soared upwards. But it was more than another month until Kenney brought in mandatory public health orders, on December 8, after daily cases numbers had more than tripled to 1,727.
By this time, AHS was double-bunking COVID patients, desperately repurposing other hospital spaces into “unconventional ICUs”, working with the Red Cross to open emergency field hospitals, and rationing oxygen.
Alberta Health Services also delayed huge numbers of surgeries, creating a backlog of roughly 36,000 procedures.
“Jason Kenney’s dithering and hesitation pushed Alberta’s healthcare system to the limit, working frontline heroes into exhaustion and trauma,” Notley said. “These extreme scenarios were avoidable.”
Earlier in the year, on September 2, Dr. Hussain Usman, a public health surveillance official at AHS, emailed Amy Colquhoun, his government counterpart, and said that AHS needed new modelling to support planning in several different areas of COVID response, but he wanted to avoid duplicating efforts if the government was already developing models.
In response, Colquhoun wrote “there is some modelling-related work I’m aware of but nothing planned regarding projections. This is purposeful: we’ve been advised not to pursue projections as there are too many uncertainties. Given that the outcomes of such work may not be supported by all leadership, I would suggest not pursuing this work yourselves.”
“Just thought you should be aware of the feedback we’ve received on projections (in particular, long-term ones)” Colquhoun wrote later in the exchange.
Senior AHS officials discussed this warning but decided to develop province-wide and zone-level models anyway, to update their techniques based on new data and lessons from the early pandemic modelling, and to re-run their simulations every month. The documents show government and AHS officials preparing to brief the premier on their modelling work on September 29.
Kenney lied in his very first remarks when the legislature returned to session on October 20, in response to Notley calling on him to release the updated modelling.
“No, we do not have updated models,” Kenney said, and went on to lie about the existence of the updated modelling numerous times in the house and in public remarks though the fall.
“We are in a dangerous third wave of the pandemic now,” said NDP Health Critic David Shepherd. “Now more than ever, Albertans need leadership they can trust. But Jason Kenney has repeatedly broken this trust by lying, withholding information, and failing to act when the moment demanded it.
“It’s time for Jason Kenney to finally level with the people of Alberta, and release all the modelling he has for the third wave.”