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COVID-19 hospitalizations, ICU admissions climbing in Edmonton zone

Hospitals in the Edmonton zone are bracing themselves for the third wave of the pandemic. As Julia Wong explains, doctors say this wave is different from the second wave and predict when those numbers will peak.

Hospitalization and ICU admissions continue to climb in the Edmonton zone and one critical care physician says if things remain status quo, those numbers will keep going up until they peak at the end of May.

Dr. Noel Gibney, co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association Pandemic Response Committee, said Edmonton’s numbers currently are comparable to where the city was at the beginning of December.

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As of April 26, there were 221 COVID-19 patients in hospital and 57 in ICU in the Edmonton zone.

“We’re tracking very, very closely and looking at the curves,” Gibney said. “They’re very, very similar.

“The only difference is we started from a higher baseline than we did in December.”

A chart showing hospitalization and ICU numbers in Alberta.

A chart showing hospitalization and ICU numbers in Alberta.

Tonia Gloweski/Global News

Gibney said that suggests the peak could be reached late next month.

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“The peak would be around the same we saw at the end of December, maybe slightly higher, which would suggest that looking at what AHS has suggested in terms of available beds and one hopes also staffing – which people managed in December, although it must be said, with significant effort – would be achievable,” he said.

As of April 25, there were 594 hospitalizations across the entire province. To compare, that number was 294 a month before on March 25.

According to AHS, there are a baseline of 72 COVID-19 ICU beds in the Edmonton zone. During the second wave, 65 additional beds were added.

As of right now, 19 additional ICU beds have been added to the baseline number, for a total of 91.

A graph showing baseline and surge capacity for COVID-19 ICU beds in the Edmonton Zone.

A graph showing baseline and surge capacity for COVID-19 ICU beds in the Edmonton Zone.

Tonia Gloweski/Global News

“We are able to increase the number of both acute care and ICU spaces in our hospitals if patient demand increases (as we did in November and December),” said AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson, adding the health authority has the ability to increase to 425 ICU spaces provincewide.

“We are constantly monitoring case numbers and preparing our healthcare system to ensure it can meet demand.

“This includes adding both ICU and acute care spaces, as well as, if necessary, redeploying staff and reducing services as we did during the first and second waves.”

Dr. Neeja Bakshi, a COVID Unit physician at the Royal Alex Hospital, said things are picking up at the hospital, adding they’re seeing the post-Easter surge.

“We saw a dramatic increase in admission. We were going from a couple a day to six to seven per day, that’s including ICU and the ward,” she said.

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Bakshi said patients were discharged fairly quickly in early April but they’ve been unable to keep up with that now. She said this third wave is different from the second wave for a few different reasons.

“In the fall and December, we were seeing a lot of long-term care outbreaks. We were seeing a lot of nursing home facility patients coming into the hospital. But we also had gone into a lockdown in the early part of December. We also scaled back on surgeries by the time we were starting to see an escalation,” she said.

“We have not yet scaled back on surgeries…We are already into surge capacity in ICU in Edmonton, Calgary and I think even up north in Fort McMurray. We’re seeing not only COVID increase but we’re seeing non-COVID.”

Though numbers may not be at the same level of the second wave, Bakshi argues things are busier now. She said some patients may have been avoiding the hospital in previous waves but, more than a year into the pandemic, that may no longer be possible.

“We haven’t seen the same slow-down of the non-COVID related illnesses that we saw in the fall,” she said. “We see so much of the backlogs of illnesses that we didn’t see in the last year.”

Bakshi argues that vaccinations will not be enough to stem the third wave.

“We are seeing people getting infected with COVID even though they have the first dose. The first of the vaccine is not a guarantee you won’t get COVID,” she said.

Gibney said if things remain status quo, “we will have a fairly tough wave.”

“I think we will peak at the end of May hopefully within the hospital capacity and then hopefully at that point in time we will see a progressive decline in hospitalization and ICU admissions. But that’s probably going to take six to eight weeks to come back to some kind of baseline,” he said.

Gibney said restrictions that could be considered include closing personal services businesses, closing places of worship and shutting down in-person schooling for kindergarten to Grade 6 students. Other options, he said, include greater enforcement of restrictions and targeted vaccination clinics.

Likewise, Bakshi suggests measures similar to what the province implemented in early December, including a ban on outdoor social gatherings.

On Monday afternoon, Premier Jason Kenney said the government continues to be concerned about high numbers and will introduce more measures if necessary but stopped short of doing so.

Kenney is asking Albertans to buckle down until they can get vaccinated.

“More rules do not necessarily increase compliance,” he said. “In fact, I think it could increase COVID fatigue.”

Case counts and hospitalizations are mirroring what was seen in the second wave, but Kenney said the province is taking a balanced approach.

“Our approach has always been about risk management, to prevent overwhelming of our health-care system while also minimizing the damage to broader social health through restrictions,” he said.

The premier argued the difference between now and Christmas is the effect of vaccines, saying there has been a huge decline of infections and deaths among the province’s most vulnerable.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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