The number of COVID-19 patients in Alberta’s intensive care units could more than double in the next two weeks, according to internal projections from the provincial health authority, and hospitals are training additional staff on the how to use the fans in view of the surge.
Premier Jason Kenney, who has been in isolation for the past two weeks due to potential exposure to the coronavirus, joined a cabinet committee Monday afternoon to review the province’s chief medical officer recommendations on the news measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. The meeting followed a week of near-daily records of new infections and hospitalizations as the government prepared to announce its decision on new restrictions on Tuesday.
The province has one of the highest infection rates in the country, but has acted slower than other jurisdictions to expand the restrictions, arguing that widespread economic shutdowns were more harmful than the pandemic itself.
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The most recent data shows that on Sunday 328 people with COVID-19 were in hospital, including 62 in intensive care. The province had reserved 70 intensive care beds for patients with COVID-19, but added to that. There are outbreaks in many hospitals across the province, some of which have been operating beyond capacity for weeks and also have sick or isolated staff.
The Alberta Health Services Early Warning System, a tool that helps hospitals prepare for potential surges, predicts that 129 people with COVID-19 could be in intensive care by Dec. 7 in the worst-case scenario, according to data obtained by The Globe and Mail. Intensive care admissions would reach 90 in the mid-range scenario. The model’s most optimistic prediction shows admissions roughly stable over the next two weeks, peaking at 61, one lower than those at the ICU on Sunday.
The province has 173 intensive care beds, with patients ranging from car crash survivors to those with COVID-19, according to AHS. The intensive care unit occupancy rate reached 90% in Calgary and 92% in Edmonton on Friday, AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said.
AHS said in a statement that the early warning system is just one of the tools it uses to predict hospitalizations. Mr Williamson said AHS plans to make room in hospitals with measures such as discharging people as soon as possible, regrouping COVID-19 patients to free up beds in other areas and reduction in the number of operations.
“AHS is able to increase the number of hospital beds available for COVID patients if we reduce the number of other patients in the hospital,” he said. “This is a serious situation and we would like to remind all Albertans that we need their help to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in the community, which in turn will reduce the strain on the health care system.
The hospitals are also planning to open “fully equipped units that are not currently operational” and equip other spaces, he said.
Edmonton and Calgary hospitals are adding 20 intensive care beds in each city, according to AHS’s weekly update to medical staff. Temporary intensive care beds come at the expense of space for patients who need other specialist services, such as coronary care, postoperative recovery and other areas capable of supporting ventilators and monitoring cardiac, indicates the memo.
“More intensive care and intensive care beds will be added in the days and weeks to come,” the memo reads. AHS is also training additional staff in the use of ventilators, which are needed in 60 to 80 percent of COVID-19 patients in intensive care, according to the memo.
AHS’s early warning system is also predicting a deluge of COVID-19 admissions beyond the ICU. According to the most aggressive predictions, 699 people with COVID-19 will be admitted to hospital, excluding intensive care, in two weeks; 489 admissions in the average forecast; and 329 in the most conservative scenario.
The province added 1,549 new cases on Monday – a per capita rate that is more than three times that of Ontario – and has averaged more than 1,000 cases per day for a week. The percentage of tests that come back positive is around 8 percent.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw said she expects hospital admissions to continue to increase over the next two to three weeks, even as new measures are implemented as many cases do not need to go to the hospital immediately.
“This is something we would expect to see regardless of any measures introduced at this time, again because of this lag,” she said on Monday. “The health system is working very hard to create additional capacity for these patients, but as I said before, unfortunately, this can come at the expense of services that become available for other health needs.
Dr Hinshaw said she plans to recommend “strong action” to the provincial government, but declined to say what. She added that her job is to make recommendations and the decision is up to the cabinet.
Mr Kenney has rejected calls for a short lockdown that would include widespread business closures to control infections. He called the lockdowns a violation of people’s rights and appealed to Albertans’ sense of “personal responsibility” with largely voluntary guidelines. Yet he also warned he would consider tougher measures if the situation deteriorated.
Aidan Hollis, an economist at the University of Calgary and director of Incentives for Global Health, said putting the economy above public health measures is worse for the economy in the long run. He said strong measures now would prevent a more severe lockdown later.
“If people know they are not safe and if there is a serious public health crisis in the province, it will not support foot traffic in the restaurants that governments seemed to want,” he said. he declares.
“It’s going to be impossible to let the economy thrive while people say, ‘I really think going out to the store is going to be risky for me today.’ ”
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