How did Alberta’s COVID situation become so bad?

Easily — by utterly ignoring what we know about this virus, wishful thinking for political reasons, and cherry-picking what they would believe.

In June, the province did what no other jurisdiction in the western world had done–they declared the pandemic “over” and told us we could just treat it as “endemic” (i.e., a disease that is always present at low but not dangerous levels in the population–colds are “endemic,” for example).

Why did they do this?

Jason Kenney seemed determined to have the Calgary Stampede go on, and to remove the unpopular public health restrictions. (If you think the fact that his plan allowed for everything to go back to “normal” on the precise dates needed for the Stampede to happen just by happy coincidence, I have beach front property in Calgary to sell you).

But didn’t they do modelling?

Yes. Sort of. Not really. Let me explain.

Models are mathematical simulations about possible outcomes in diseases. They obviously have limitations, but they can be useful tools.

A model is only as good as its assumptions. To make a model, you’re trying to simplify reality. So, you try to focus on the things that matter, and ignore the things that don’t. All models will ignore something.

Doctors have been demanding that the province release the models and data they used ever since the announcement. The province dragged its feet on this. (If that doesn’t make you suspicious, I will add a beautiful condo on the beach-front property I’ve already sold you).

They finally released the model. We can now look at what assumptions were made. This is from a Twitter feed that highlights some assumptions made by the model:

What are the problems?

When you make a model, you should not assume things that you know to be false.

Here’s some assumptions, and why they are clearly false.

  • Assumes “homogeneity” of vaccines — this means that it assumes that all areas of the province that interact have the same rate of vaccination. But we know this is false. Edmonton, for example, has about 85%. County of Warner, where I live, still has less than 50% of the population. FALSE, and known to be false from the beginning.
  • Case detection stays the same — government announced that they would stop contact tracing and testing in the same way. FALSE, and known to be false.
  • Assumes infected patients will not infect anyone else — this assumes that everyone who tests positive will self-isolate, and thus not infect people further. C’mon, this is idiotic. If you aren’t testing, people may not know if they are infectious. The province cancelled the requirement to quarantine even if you KNEW you were positive. FALSE, and government took active steps to MAKE it more likely to be false
  • Assumed no waning in protection from vaccinations — we’re still in early days, and this may not be a a reasonable assumption in all cases. Not necessarily false, but a dangerous assumption when combined with the other issues.

Finally, the model did not include the possibility of major gatherings without public health measures. What kind of gatherings? Oh, you know, things like 1st of July celebrations and the Calgary Stampede (which was 500,000 people this year).

Alberta used the UK as a model for how things would “improve” if they opened. Why the UK? Well, because they were the only country in western Europe which had the results that Kenney’s government wanted. It was an out-lier. (And it now isn’t doing very well again.)

So, they cherry-picked the one example from Europe that supported what they wanted to do, ignored all the others, and then patted themselves on the back for a job well-done. (As another modelling group–cited below–noted, “Alberta has not seen this trend, and neither has the United States.” So, the North American experience was not the same, and there were good reasons for this–levels of testing–that made it foolish to act as if the UK would apply to Alberta. And, this was known immediately, not after-the-fact.)

So, big surprise, given that almost all of these assumptions were clearly false, the model didn’t work so great.

Didn’t anyone realize this was a a problem?

Of course they did. Most medical groups in the country were screaming about it (here’s the Alberta Medical Association; here’s the Alberta Pediatrics section). We had other people doing models without these crazy assumptions, and they did not encourage happy warm thoughts.

British Columbia has a modelling group for COVID-19. Unlike in Alberta, that modelling group is independent–they are scientists who do the modelling who don’t answer to the premier. It’s amazing how not fearing for your job can make you be more honest. (If you don’t believe this, I will throw in a Porsche for sale when you act now on my beach property offer.)

You can see their modelling work here. It is eerily accurate. They explained precisely why Alberta’s modelling was wrong, and why it would go wrong. And they were right.

They also used multiple models, and came up with the same answers. That tells you you’re on to something.

The BC group wrote:

It is important to remember, as noted above, that these figures are projections in a scenario with no change in policy or behaviours. The projected peak in hospital occupancy is several times higher than previous peaks, and those led to substantial changes in both individual behaviour and public health policy. We do not expect to observe these projected incidence or hospital volumes, because we think policy would change to protect hospital capacity, and individuals will change their behaviour in response to such high case numbers. What is clear from these analyses is that there are substantial evidence-based reasons to believe that greater utilization of non-pharmaceutical interventions – such as social distancing, masking and air filtration will be required to protect the Alberta health care system, and the health of Albertans, while vaccination coverage is expanded

Thus far, they are wrong in one thing–a substantial worsening has not resulted in the Alberta government deciding that “policy would change to protect hospital capacity.” Apparently even they can’t factor in Jason Kenney, Tyler Shandro’s, and the United Conservative Party’s utter stupidity.

Ah well. No model is perfect.

But, their advice is still valid: “greater utilization of …. social distancing, masking and air filtration will be required.”

Required, maybe. But whether it will be done remains to be seen.

So, how did government respond?

In a word? With mockery. Doctors and scientists (along with the media reporting their concerns) were accused of stirring up fear, and of refusing to admit the pandemic was over.

Here’s Premier Kenney:

And here’s Matt Wolf, who is paid $194,253 per year of taxpayer money to be Kenney’s “issue manager.” His job seems to be mainly mocking Kenney’s enemies on Twitter:

But, since they’ve seen the error of their ways, I’m sure Kenney, Wolf, Shandro, and the rest will admit their mistake, apologize to those they attacked, and take steps to correct their errors, right?

Right . . . . ?

Yes, I’m sure they will.

I’ll show you a video of them doing so as soon as you sign for the deal on that beachfront property I’m selling.

With luck, it comes with towel-boy Matt Wolf, and his salary will go to paying for a few more nurses’ shifts.

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