Nov. 18, 2020

Virtual forum explores harsh realities, tough decisions facing Alberta

Nov. 23 event will address current state of COVID-19 pandemic and discuss evidence-informed path forward

Coronavirus infections in Alberta are spiking and setting records not previously seen throughout the course of the pandemic. This grim reality is aggravating the strain on already stressed schools, hospitals, long-term care facilities and the economy.

A free public virtual forum on Nov. 23, hosted by the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, will address the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic in the province and explore the best path forward in managing this crisis.

  • Photo above: A Second COVID-19 Wave – Hard Realities and Difficult Decisions for Alberta speakers are, from left: Pierre-Gerlier (PG) Forest, Katrina Milaney, Daniel Niven, Tyler Williamson, and moderator Christine Friedenreich.

“We are now at a critical juncture and need to make important decisions,” says Dr. Christine Friedenreich, PhD, O’Brien Institute associate scientific director and moderator for the forum: A Second COVID-19 Wave – Hard Realities and Difficult Decisions for Alberta. 

Friedenreich, a member of the University of Calgary’s COVID-19 Analytics and Strategy Group, says with the sharp increase in case numbers in Alberta, new evidence-informed decisions are needed to control the continued rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the province.

“This virtual forum will provide a timely opportunity to share the evidence and discuss the options before us now,” she says.

Since the onset of the pandemic in mid-March, the Centre for Health Informatics (CHI) at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) has been tracking statistical data about COVID-19 — work that has helped to inform municipal and provincial pandemic response.

“The current trajectory reveals the seriousness of the situation in Alberta,” says CHI Associate Director Dr. Tyler Williamson, PhD, who will speak at the forum.

“The capacity of the health-care system to provide access to hospital and ICU (intensive care unit) beds is coming under growing pressure as the case numbers continue to climb,” says Williamson, an associate professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the CSM.

While government and public health officials carefully consider the best options for stemming the tide of the virus, Williamson says it's important to note public health restrictions aren’t without side effects, some of which we may not even realize yet.

“We need to be very thoughtful about what steps we take next as a country, province, and city,” he says.

O’Brien Institute Scientific Director Dr. Tom Stelfox, MD, agrees.

“We need to keep the public safe from this virus, but we recognize that the most stringent measures can have serious consequences on people’s mental health and overall wellbeing,” says Stelfox, a professor in the Department of Critical Care Medicine at the CSM.   

Weighing the effectiveness of interventions that could control the spread of the virus against the social and economic impacts of these interventions is key, says Stelfox.

The range of options available for jurisdictions is wide, ranging from increasing contact tracing, to restricting the number of people in social gathering, to closing schools and parts of the economy.

The best path forward is an evidence-based one, says Friedenreich. “The data tell us where the outbreaks are happening and this is key to informing our response,” she says.

A Second COVID-19 Wave – Hard Realities and Difficult Decisions for Alberta, Nov. 23, 10 a.m., is part of the O’Brien Institute’s Anatomy of a Pandemic digital forum series.

Additional speakers include:

  • Dr. Katrina Milaney, PhD, will address the implications for vulnerable populations
  • Dr. Daniel Niven, MD, PhD, who will provide an update on the current acute care clinical implications of Covid-19 in Alberta
  • Dr. Pierre-Gerlier (PG) Forest, PhD, director of the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, who will outline potential public health policy options for Alberta.

Pierre-Gerlier (PG) Forest is a professor emeritus (economics) at the University of Calgary and member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the CSM.

Christine Friedenreich is an adjunct professor at the Faculty of Kinesiology and Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) in the departments of  in  Community Health Sciences, and Oncology. She is also division head, division of Preventive Oncology, in the Department of Oncology,  and a member of the Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute at the CSM.

Katrina Milaney is an associate professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the CSM, and member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the CSM.

Daniel Niven is an assistant professor in the departments of Community Health Sciences and Critical Care Medicine at the CSM, and member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the CSM.

Tyler Williamson is a member of the O’Brien Institute of Public Health and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the CSM.