3rd COVID-19 wave bringing 'the most ICU patients that we've ever seen in our health-care system:’ Alberta Health Services

WATCH: Alberta's third COVID-19 wave is starting to crest, but hospitals are still overwhelmed. As Heather Yourex-West reports, the province is planning to build more field hospitals.

Intensive care units (ICUs) are 40 per cent above their usual capacity during the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Premier Jason Kenney announced Monday afternoon, with 241 patients currently in ICUs across the province.

“Normally our health care system is set up to care for about 170 people in ICU,” Kenney said. “We are about over 40 per cent above our normal maximum capacity, and our pre COVID record high for ICU admissions.”

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And the number of cases remain high across the province, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.

“Alberta’s average positivity rate for the last seven days is 10.7 per cent,” Hinshaw said. “That is near the highest point it has ever been in this pandemic and rates in every zone have been increasing over the past several months.”

“This is not an urban versus rural issue. It is clear that COVID-19 is spreading, and having an impact everywhere in our province.”

The impact on the healthcare system is of foremost concern for the province and Alberta Health Services (AHS).

“Our healthcare system is under significant stress, more than at any point during the pandemic,” AHS president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu said. “In fact, we’re currently experiencing several record highs across the healthcare system.”

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Yiu said the 186 COVID-19 patients currently in ICU beds is six times the record for influenza-related ICU admissions, and the 241 total patients being treated in ICUs is unprecedented.

“That is easily the most ICU patients that we’ve ever seen in our health-care system, and definitely higher than what we’ve seen in waves one and two,” Yiu said.

“We also now have the highest number of patients on ventilators, at 222, of which more than half are COVID-19 patients,” the AHS CEO said.

Yiu said AHS is “carefully monitoring demand” for ICU beds, and has the capacity to increase the total to 425 through repurposing other areas in hospitals for unstaffed beds.

“Our biggest current challenge though is staffing these additional spaces,” Yiu said. “And this is certainly more difficult than the first and second waves.”

Yiu said the conversion of other hospital spaces to unstaffed ICU beds has reduced capacity for surgeries — up to 30 per cent in some hospitals.

She also said patients have had to be transferred from hospitals in communities like Fort McMurray, Lac La Biche, Grande Prairie, Cold Lake and St. Paul for care in Edmonton hospitals.

“All of the 14 transfers were related to hospital capacity pressures, due to the COVID 19 pandemic response,” Yiu said.

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Per capita case rates and hospitalizations have been higher than the province’s two largest cities, Hinshaw said.

“Since the beginning of May, the North and Central zones have had higher hospitalization rates per capita compared to any other region of the province,” the chief medical officer of health said. “The North Zone in particular, has had hospitalization rates more than double those of Edmonton, Calgary, or the South Zone.”

She added that since February, new cases in rural Alberta are 26 per cent more likely to end up in hospital.

Kenney reiterated that vaccines are “our way to get back to normal,” announcing a new web tool to monitor vaccine uptake in areas throughout the province.

“Soon you’ll be able to look up the percentage of individuals who have received at least one dose, the percentage of people fully immunized and the total doses that have been administered in your area by age group,” the premier said.

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Kenney said later this week the province will “potentially” be announcing a “relaxation of self-isolation and quarantine requirements… based on whether they’ve had a first- or second-dose of the vaccine — that will reflect the lower level of threat or the lower level of risk that they pose.”

He also said in the next day or two, half of Albertans eligible for their first shot will be getting it.

While the premier hinted at lifting restrictions once a specified percentage — around 70 per cent – of the population got that first dose, he said the province will not be creating different rules for those vaccinated, since personal health information would need to be disclosed.

“There’s been a very clear direction set in this province that that kind of disclosure of personal health information will not be required of Albertans,” Hinshaw said.

“Allowing more activity when people are fully vaccinated is going to be something we do as a population, and not as individuals.”

Hinshaw also announced a change to drive-in events.

“Effective today, anyone attending these events must attend only with members of their household in the same vehicle, or two close contacts for those who live alone.”

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Kenney responded to the recent announcement that the Calgary Stampede will have a more scaled-back, spaced-out event for 2021, calling it “great news.”

“But how big a Stampede, how many of us can visit, and celebrate the ‘Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’ — all of that depends on how many of us stick it to COVID by getting a vaccine.”

On Monday afternoon, Alberta Health announced 721 new COVID-19 cases, bringing active cases to 21,288 in the province.

Hospitalizations rose to 678, with 181 in intensive care.

With 7,002 tests conducted, the positivity rate remains above 10 per cent.

Five more deaths due to COVID-19 were also announced, bringing the total to 2,148.

A man and woman in their 70s died in the Edmonton zone, a man in his 80s in the Central zone, a man in his 60s in the Calgary zone, and a man in his 60s connected to the outbreak at CNRL Horizon died.


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