ST. JOHN’S, N.L. –
Local Journalism Initiative reporter
The short-term prospects for the spread of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador appear promising under current health emergency measures.
But even the best long-term projections suggest a likely tightening of beds in intensive care units (ICU) by the fall.
The screenings were presented to journalists and the public on Wednesday by Dr. Proton Rahman, clinician at Eastern Health. The information was gathered through various local organizations with the help of the University of Toronto and the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).
Even with current emergency health measures, long-term modeling has shown that the province needed about 200 intensive care beds at advanced coronavirus levels in November. This is three times what is currently available, although there are still enough fans.
The overall bed capacity would not be exceeded in this scenario, but Rahman said that ICU care depends mainly on the number of nurses and specialists available.
“It’s not just about beds,” he said. “With each individual bed, there are human resources involved, such as respiratory technicians, which will be essential to this. We really need to rethink, to a certain extent, how to provide these services. “
A more dramatic scenario presented on Wednesday, in which half the population fell ill, showed catastrophic results, with not enough beds, staff or fans to go around.
“We simply cannot cope without radical change, and even then we are unlikely to succeed,” said Health Minister Dr. John Haggie in a later video address.
Rahman warned that the CIHI models are likely “quite different.”
“We are looking far beyond the deadline of which we are certain. “
He added that Newfoundland and Labrador was at least three weeks behind the other provinces in terms of usable date.
In particular, although tragic in itself, the fact that there have so far been only two deaths does not allow for accurate projections of mortality rates.
He said the higher rates of high blood pressure and diabetes in this province do not bode well, as these underlying conditions increase the risk of severe symptoms or death.
But the virus can affect anyone.
“The experience reported in many American states and also in Canada (it is that) many healthy young people actually end up in the ICU. Most don’t, but it can happen to anyone, “said Rahman. “The people who worry us most are the elderly, the vulnerable and multiple health issues, but everyone can be in trouble and you really have to respect what this virus can do. “
Rahman said that the cluster at Caul’s funeral home – a mid-March exposure that accounts for 75% of subsequent COVID-18 hospitalizations – also makes it difficult to accurately interpret the province’s figures.
Models are usually based on more evenly distributed infections.
Rahman said the province’s emergency measures could save time to meet demand before the surge.
“The timing is crucial in terms of healthcare capacity to be able to manage large amounts of patients,” he said. “The other reason why time is important, if we look at 18 months to two years, a lot could happen in terms of potential therapy, something that has been redirected in terms of incoming drug, some antibodies that you can take or possibly a vaccine. You buy time for potentially therapy and you also buy time in terms of our health care ability to adapt to that. “
Rahman would not speculate on the duration of current health measures, especially if the peak does not arrive until November.
But he cited a scenario posed by some experts in which individual measures could be temporarily lifted and re-imposed if the number of cases increased again.
The Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, was not available for questions during the Wednesday evening briefing.
Right now, said Rahman, it’s important to stay put.
“It only takes a small indiscretion to create a big increase,” he said.
“So please follow the health guidelines put in place by Dr. Fitzgerald. “
With files from David Maher
Peter Jackson is a reporter for the Local Initiative Covering Healthcare for The Telegram