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EDITORIAL: Rising flu rates problematic for hospitals, organizations

EDITORIAL: A triple whammy of flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RVC) has slammed schools, hospitals and communities in Alberta.
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/

A triple whammy of flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RVC) has slammed schools, hospitals and communities in Alberta.

And while one may think a discussion on mask wearing in certain settings would – at a minimum – be on the table, you can think again.

The province resoundingly laid down the law against school boards potentially looking at a temporary return to mask mandates during the always dangerous influenza season.

Premier Danielle Smith introduced regulatory changes earlier in the month that drew a line in the sand on what to and not to expect when it came to masking in schools.

Of course, with Smith campaigning on kids never having to wear a mask in school unless they wanted to, the order was hardly a surprise nor was her doubling down on the decision.

While she has emphasized the need to have a “normal school environment” for students and for classrooms to stay open, the local school boards would have the best handle on what should and shouldn’t be done for the health of their students.

It also continues the province’s continued stance on limiting any organization beneath them from acting on their own, such as when it changed legislation to prohibit municipalities from doing the same more than a year ago.

The Court of King’s Bench found in October that the province’s requirement to stop mask mandates was unreasonable since the decision wasn’t made by the chief medical officer of health, but by cabinet. Under the Public Health Act, the province’s top doctor should have the right to put health over nearly everything else.

Smith did say any decision under the Public Health Act would take precedent, but when you clean house of the healthcare system and put in your own people, don’t expect them to go against you any time soon.

She made a similar move in tabling any legislation for amending the Alberta Human Rights Act that would stop so-called discrimination against unvaccinated – a decision that could’ve been challenged in court – to herself and ministers calling businesses and groups behind closed doors to abandon a vaccine policy.

Though the decision gives clear guidance to school boards in Alberta, it ignores the growing increase of flu, COVID-19 and RVC in the province.

Provincial data shows Alberta had a low intake of flu vaccines at only 20.5 per cent of residents. Of those, fewer than 60 per cent of seniors and fewer than 15 per cent of kids under four years of age have received shots for the two categories that have an 80 per cent target rate.

Though parts of Alberta have taken pride in having low vaccine uptake, the Public Health Agency of Canada’s FluWatch report for Nov. 13-19 shows flu activity is dramatically increasing and pediatric hospitalizations are “above levels typically seen at the peak of the influenza season.”

The Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary had to add more waiting space in a heated trailer because it was overwhelmed with patients that have caused a 20 to 30 per cent increase to its emergency department.

That has translated into more than 300 visits a day. The Prairie regions of Canada have seen the highest positive flu test rate, while also continuing to see COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection climb.

People are beyond exhausted from hearing about COVID-19 and any similar illnesses such as the flu and RVC. But while it’s easy to bury your head in the sand and hope for it to go away, time and again, reality has taught us differently.

Not utilizing the preventative measures available in someone’s toolkit is folly at best and criminal at worst.

In the past two-and-a-half years, people have learned much during the COVID-19 pandemic, but not nearly as much as we should have.

Of course, the easiest solution would be to take advantage of free vaccines in helping limit the risk that preventable diseases have.