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Coronavirus: Alberta doctor warns ICU could be at capacity within 2 weeks

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Kenney calls two-week push ‘last chance’ to avoid further measures' Coronavirus: Kenney calls two-week push ‘last chance’ to avoid further measures
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney calls the two week push with restrictions the province’s final chance to avoid further COVID-19 restrictions. – Nov 12, 2020

If the spread of COVID-19 is not slowed down in Alberta, one doctor is warning the province could be out of ICU room within two weeks.

That’s according to Dr. Noel Gibney, a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta and a former doctor at the U of A hospital in Edmonton.

Read more: Hospital beds versus staff: Is COVID-19 overwhelming the human side of Alberta’s health system?

In just under two weeks, Alberta’s data has shown a 40 per cent increase to hospitalizations, a 61 per cent increase in patients who have had to be admitted to the ICU and Alberta’s ICU capacity is at 66 per cent.

In the spring, the province put aside about 2,400 acute care beds for COVID-19 patients and set aside 650 ICU beds with ventilator support.

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“Today, right now, currently we are at much smaller numbers than those of course, we’re at 225 hospitalizations including 51 ICU admissions,” Kenney said at Thursday’s COVID-19 news conference.

“So we’re still at a relatively small fraction of what we’ve demonstrated we can open up in terms of maximum capacity.”

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But infrastructure and space is not the only concern Gibney has. The doctor said data has shown that every time a health-care worker tests positive for COVID-19, about six other staff members have to isolate.

“Where we are with staffing at the moment, we definitely don’t have the staff to cope with an increase beyond where we are now,” he said.

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This warning comes as more than 400 doctors and union heads representing thousands of nurses have signed an open letter addressed to Alberta’s premier, health minister and chief medical officer of health, urging the province to bring in strong restrictions immediately to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the province.

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Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room doctor at Calgary’s Rockyview General Hospital, is one of those doctors.

Read more: New restrictions announced for Alberta as 860 COVID-19 cases, 10 deaths reported Thursday

He said the letter — signed by 450 health-care workers and union heads representing more than 117,000 members as of noon on Thursday — came after Premier Jason Kenney announced further restrictions last week. For Vipond, what was announced wasn’t enough.

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“It was like a punch in the gut. At that point in time we kind of felt like society had our back and at that very moment, we really felt let down by our leadership.

In the letter, the signatories urge the government to take the following “decisive mandatory measures.”

  • Directives to work from home for anyone who is able
  • Limiting contacts to those within the household or support bubble
  • Restrictions on group recreation/sports activities
  • Suspension of group indoor activities (including indoor dining, bars, casinos, religious services and theatres)

Read more: Wearing a mask also helps protect you from coronavirus, CDC says

The signatories recommend keeping schools open for in-person learning options “due to their vital importance,” but Vipond said the government needs to provide more support for schools by introducing things like mandatory masking in classrooms and making sure all schools have proper ventilation.

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“I hope (the province knows) what’s going to happen and I hope they eventually make the correct response to it, but currently we haven’t seen any evidence of that,” Gibney said.

Alberta announced several new restrictions on Thursday afternoon including a two-week pause on all indoor team sporting events and fitness classes and a curfew for restaurants.

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On Nov. 6, Kenney said his government’s goal isn’t to get Alberta to zero COVID-19 cases; the goal is to keep the spread under control so it doesn’t overwhelm the health-care system without harming the economy or people’s social and mental health.

He reiterated that point on Thursday saying the only circumstance where Alberta would consider a more extreme “lockdown” type of measure is if growth reached a point where it was “fundamentally threatening the capacity of our healthcare system to cope.”

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“There are a whole bunch of measures we can put in place to support local businesses,” Vipond said. “But at this juncture, (the province is) endangering our health-care system.”

Read more: New restrictions announced for Alberta as 860 COVID-19 cases, 10 deaths reported Thursday

Before the restrictions were announced, both Vipond and Gibney were hoping anything introduced would go further than gathering limits.

“Right now the terms we’re hearing are ‘short sharp,” Vipond said. “But probably the more important part is sharp. We need to have a really significant limitation of our interactions as citizens so that we decrease the transmission number so we can keep our hospital system functional.”

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Kenney says province will consider more restrictions if Albertans do not respond' Coronavirus: Kenney says province will consider more restrictions if Albertans do not respond
Coronavirus: Kenney says province will consider more restrictions if Albertans do not respond – Nov 12, 2020

For Gibney, even strong restrictions may be too late.

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“Personally, I think the actions to date of the Alberta government have been irresponsible and I think it’s time they behaved responsibly for the people of Alberta,” Gibney said.