An increase in coronavirus cases has Pushed the healthcare system in the Canadian province of Alberta to the brink of collapse, as healthcare workers battle growing exhaustion and a growing anti-vaccine movement in the region.
The province warned this week that its intensive care capacity was under strain, with more people in need of intensive care than at any other time during the pandemic - almost all unvaccinated.
"It 's not easy to go to work every day and lookand people in their 30s are dying, ”an Edmonton intensive care nurse told The Guardian. "Having to help a family say goodbye and then take the actions required at the end of someone's life is worse than anyone can imagine.
Alberta has long touted its loosening of restrictions on coronaviruses - including the previous months as the "best summer ever" because it has canceled those few restrictions. It was also the site of the highest number of cases in North America.
In a province with a long history of government skepticism, the pandemic has become fertile ground for protests and anti-vaccine rhetoric, including elected officials , firefighters and police. During the current federal election, the People's Party of Canada, a fringe right-wing party that spoke out against the measures, saw its greatest base of support in rural Alberta.
This skepticism towards masks and vaccines have been costly, say frontline women rkers.
On Monday, more than 60 infectious disease physicians wrote a letter to Prime Minister Jason Kenney, warning of a catastrophic outcome if the province does not tackle the growing caseloads.
"Our health care system is really on the verge of failing 'collapse, "the doctors wrote." Hospitals and intensive care units across the province are under tremendous pressure and have reached a point where it is not clear whether, or for how long,e can provide safe care for Albertans.
The province has canceled elective surgeries as resources and space are allocated to Covid patients. The intensive care beds, meanwhile, are at full capacity.
"As soon as those breathing tubes come out, we kick people out of the ICU for make room for someone else, "said another nurse." It's getting dark. It's hard to watch. "
Medical staff in Edmonton, the provincial capital, have warned that they will soon have to screen incoming patients to determine who may receive life-saving care.
Kenney, who has not made a public appearance for weeks, held emergency meetings with senior government officials on Tuesday. The province announced a proof of vaccination card, with plans to issue a code QR in semaines to come.
Almost 79% of eligible Albertans over the age of 12 have received at least one dose of vaccine and 71% of eligible residents are fully immunized - one of the lowest rates in the country. On average, 78% of eligible Canadians are fully vaccinated.
While these rates eclipse those in the United States, the relentless spread of the Delta variant shows just how Catastrophic epidemics can occur if even a tiny fraction of the population resists public health measures.
According to the province's chief medical officer of health, about 90 % of people in intensive care units are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.
"No one can ever understand what it's like to have a Zoom call with a family member whose patient is dying. No one will ever understand that, ”said oneth third nurse. "It 's the most horrible thing I ' ve ever done. And I think we all go a little bit from this very intense sadness to this anger - because it seems so preventable.
Joe Vipond, an emergency physician in Calgary and outspoken government critic, called the latest wave an "intentionally cruel" wave.
" It's always been part of the plan - people risk getting infected to develop herd immunity. I just don't think they realized how much disease would result. "
He says growing pressure from an electoral base skeptical of public health restrictions has led officials to say Alberta has "opened for summer "on July 1 and removed many of the mitigation measures it had put in place. The government also said it would only demand morepeople who test positive for Covid-19 are isolating themselves - a plan he quickly abandoned.
"The vast majority of Albertans are from good citizens who believe in collective action, who believe in governments. Unfortunately, the political base of the ruling party cannot be described like that, "he said.
A nurse pointed out the bitter irony that the most skeptical of public health measures are the most affected by the current wave.
"All of these government decisions are clearly aimed at satisfying their electoral base," she said. "But what a lack of insight to see that it is their base that is dying and pushing us to resort to medicine from the battlefield. "
In recent weeks, a number of anti-vaccine protests have taken place across the country, including in front of the hospitals ofCalgary and Edmonton, exacerbating the burnout and frustration of frontline healthcare workers.
"I don't have it anymore energy to understand, said the nurse. I hardly work like this, because we are pouring from the cup which has a hole. We never manage to fill it.
Instead, nurses say they find themselves begging a small minority of the public who increasingly find themselves in the hospital .
"We just ask them to trust us once again - we need them so that our whole healthcare system does not not collapse, "she said. "And I'm worried - because I don't know how to reach these people.