Immunocompromised Albertans and their loved ones are concerned that eliminating most COVID-19 measures will open the door to more risks, so they are trying to plan a safe path forward.
The county lifted its indoor mask mandate Tuesday along with other protective measures, including gathering restrictions. There are some exceptions where the need for masks continues, including public transportation, hospitals and continuing care facilities. Additionally, the City of Edmonton still has a mask bylaw.
“It’s going to be a little scary for kids like ours,” said Leah Lussier, whose 10-year-old son, Bryden, has a rare genetic disorder. COVID-19 infection can send him to the intensive care unit.
Braeden’s immune system isn’t working properly, which is a bigger concern for Airdrie’s mom now that measures such as the regional mask mandate are gone. When Bryden was in kindergarten, he was hospitalized nine times with pneumonia.
“COVID is terrifying for many parents, especially with children like Braeden with chronic lung disease… [and] heart disease; “He basically suffers from complications with every organ in his body,” Lozir said.
But with most public health measures scrapped, Lousier is concerned and said they will continue to wear masks in public and limit outings.
“We will always evaluate every situation we move into from here on out,” she said.
“Are you thinking about whether it’s worth taking him out so we can spend two weeks in the intensive care unit?”
The masks remain
Calgary Dean Cotton Cornwall suffers from four autoimmune disorders — including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis — and is taking two immunosuppressive drugs, given by injection, to control her conditions.
She is considered to be at high risk of severe disease and has just received her fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. She is also concerned about removing the mask’s mandate.
Cotton Cornwall, who has spent the past two years curbing the spread of the pandemic, said her outings.
She said she feels she should be more careful now.
“I have to say I’m not entirely comfortable with myself, and I hope people respect when they see people wearing masks, maybe there’s a good reason for that.”
While many Albertans will return to more normal activities, there is no end in sight to the dismissal of Paulette Stalinsky, 74, of Calgary.
She suffers from liver, kidney and heart problems and said she was “somewhat horrified” by the cancellation of public health measures.
“I’m so nervous because of it. I’m afraid for myself and others… COVID is still going on. It’s still happening. And I think we’re just jumping the gun here by removing the restrictions all at once.”
She’s been immune for two years and has no intention of changing that, especially now. Stalinsky plans to continue routines such as online grocery shopping.
“It’s definitely not safe for me to go,” she said.
At the Peter Lougheed Center in Calgary, internal medicine physician Dr. Gabriel Fabro looks after COVID-19 patients. He said he’s still seeing medically vulnerable people who have done everything they can to protect themselves, including vaccination, succumb to COVID.
“I signed several death certificates this month,” he said on Monday.
Fabro estimates that between 80,000 and 100,000 adults in Alberta are immunocompromised — including transplant recipients and people being treated for cancer and autoimmune diseases — and believes it is too early to drop the masks.
“When we know there are things we can do to reduce their risk and we choose not to do them because it’s a nuisance to us, we’re basically telling them that their lives are less important.”
Nina Snyder, director of operations at Alberta Long, hopes that vulnerable Albertans will not be stigmatized because they put their safety first.
“[For] “Our patients and their families, even really severe colds, can get them to the hospital,” said Snyder, who has heard from families who will continue to wear masks and take steps to further isolate now.
“We all have these rights. And if someone wants to protect themselves by wearing a mask, it’s entirely up to them, and we shouldn’t put any stigma or negative comments on them.”
Alberta reported 14 more COVID-related deaths over the weekend, ranging in age from 40 to 90.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the worst of COVID-19 is behind Alberta.
However, he noted that there was still a need to protect the immunocompromised – citing his government’s decision to maintain mask requirements during transit and in health care settings – and called on Albertans to respect people’s personal choices.
“There will still be Albertans who choose to wear masks in general and choose for themselves, their families, and the level of risk they are exposed to. Albertans’ choices must be respected.”