Lazy eyes listen
- ‘The pain of losing a child is terrible enough without having that loss compounded by a public debate about the circumstances…. I’m sorry’
By Tyler Dawson, NationalPost
EDMONTON — Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s top doctor, has walked back the government’s previous claim that a 14-year-old had died of COVID-19, and said the province would no longer announce COVID-19 deaths for children under 18 until a “review process” has been completed to verify all the facts.
On Tuesday, Hinshaw announced that a 14-year-old was one of 33 new COVID-19 deaths reported over the long weekend, but that the teen also “had complex pre-existing medical conditions that played a significant role in their death.”
In her announcement, Hinshaw gave no further details about the child’s death; it would have made the 14-year-old the youngest Albertan to die of COVID-19.
Hinshaw’s clinical delivery led to immediate condemnation on social media, with critics saying she was dehumanizing the child who died, and minimizing his death by mentioning pre-existing conditions.
Rachel Notley, the leader of Alberta’s opposition New Democrats, wrote on Twitter, “Telling their loved ones that there were other health complications that contributed to their death offers no comfort whatsoever.”
“No matter what ‘pre-existing conditions’ they had, this child died during a fourth wave that was preventable,” Notley wrote.
As it turns out, the child did not, in fact, die of COVID-19.
Today’s reported deaths include a 14yr old w/pre-existing medical conditions. I’d like to be clear that this tragic outcome is incredibly rare for children. Unfortunately it can occur, particularly when an individual is experiencing other complex health considerations. (6/11)— Dr. Deena Hinshaw (@CMOH_Alberta) October 12, 2021
In a Facebook post, Simone Spitzer said the 14-year-old was her brother, and that he was dying of brain cancer, but had been diagnosed with COVID-19 two days before his death.
“He died from stage 4 brain cancer, not from covid,” Spitzer wrote, linking to a news story about the death. “This is fake news.”
On Wednesday, Hinshaw clarified that while the initial report of the death of the child included COVID-19 as a “secondary cause,” new information indicated that COVID-19 was not the cause of death. She apologized directly to the family.
“The pain of losing a child is terrible enough without having that loss compounded by a public debate about the circumstances,” Hinshaw said. “I’m sorry if the way I spoke about that death made your grief worse.”
Hinshaw said reviews of deaths are done in the case of uncertainty, and if it’s found that COVID-19 is not the cause, the death is removed from reporting. Or, if COVID-19 is later found to be the cause, then those deaths are added to the reporting.
She explained that COVID-19 deaths are classified as such if COVID-19 is a primary or secondary cause, as well as in cases where there was a diagnosis, but the final cause of death is under investigation.
“We have chosen to focus on being as timely as possible in the interest of transparency,” Hinshaw said.
Alberta will now review all deaths of those under 18 prior to releasing this information.
“It is clear that we need a different process for young people,” Hinshaw said.
Throughout the pandemic, Alberta has reported comorbidities alongside COVID-19 deaths; for example, nearly 83 per cent of those who have died from COVID-19 in Alberta also had hypertension. While such transparency is touted as a way to explain the risks — if you have certain health conditions, you’re at greater risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 — critics have suggested such information downplays the deaths.
“To those who believe that the numbers are not accurate, I would say that the process that we follow takes very seriously the responsibility of ensuring the deaths we report do have COVID as either a primary or secondary cause,” said Hinshaw.
In December 2020, Hinshaw said the purpose of comorbidity reporting is to “provide additional information to Albertans” and help them evaluate the risk of COVID-19.
“I want to be clear … the presence of any chronic condition is not a death sentence, and should not be, so whether or not an individual who passed away had a chronic condition or not, does not mean that that death was less tragic,” she said.