Alberta's ambulance dispatch will stop screening callers for COVID-19 as directed by the province's Health Services.
According to a memorandum sent to EMS staff and contracted service providers on July 10, the change came into effect last month. The memo was circulated online by Dr. Joe Vipond, a Calgary ER doctor and founder of Masks4Canada. AHS confirmed its legitimacy.
This came into fruition as part of a transition into a "demobilization and active recovery plan," ending operations specific to COVID-19, reported Yahoo! News. Despite last month's memorandum acknowledging declining active COVID-19 cases in Alberta, active case counts at the start of August have increased. Some claim the virus is spreading faster in the province than during the third wave.
AHS said in a written statement Sunday that those suspected and confirmed to have COVID-19 will continue to be treated as part of EMS work. Most paramedics are already fully vaccinated. Teams already have full guidance on the necessary precautions.
"AHS EMS staff are continuing to follow all AHS guidance in the care and treatment of patients and in the use of PPE," wrote the statement. "Continuous masking remains in place at all workplace settings, including clinical and patient areas, and break and meal rooms."
The transition aligns with a two-phase rollback of COVID-19 health measures in Alberta that drew criticism from health care professionals.
On Wednesday, Alberta announced it would safely monitor the impact of the initial changes, adapt as needed over the next few weeks, and give more time to vaccinate Albertans. As of July 29, 65 percent of Albertans are now fully vaccinated and 75.8 percent of the population received at least one dose.
Effective July 29, isolation for anyone with COVID-19 symptoms and for confirmed positive cases is still required. All positive cases will also continue to be notified. However, contact tracers will no longer notify close contacts of exposure but will remain in high-risk settings such as acute and continuing care facilities.
Mandatory masking remains in acute and continuing care facilities, publicly accessible transit, taxis and ride-share. The Alberta government officially stated that they would no longer make residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 quarantine as of August 16, though it remains highly recommended. Alberta Health would also stop routine testing for mild symptoms of the virus, except for high-risk situations where large groups of people convene.
Isolation hotels and quarantine support would no longer be available, and the remaining provisions of the provincial mask mandate would cease. COVID-19 testing would remain as needed for high-risk outbreaks such as in continuing care facilities. As of Aug. 31, only those with severe symptoms will be tested.
Paul Boucher, head of the Alberta Medical Association, wrote in an open letter to members on Friday that "The pace at which public health measures are ending is troubling," adding: "I do not disagree that moving from pandemic state to endemic state is the future but would strongly advocate for a less precipitous approach."
"Vaccines are the most effective way to get past the pandemic. They're safe and highly effective," said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, adding: "This is another important milestone, but we will keep pushing for more and more Albertans to get the vaccine. If you haven’t gotten both doses, now is the time."
Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health also added that getting vaccinated protects the vaccinated person's health and also the health of your family, friends and neighbours. "If you haven’t yet received your doses of [the] vaccine, now is the perfect time to do so," Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.