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Butterdome field hospital almost ready as Alberta COVID-19 hospitalizations reach 921

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Final steps to set up the Butterdome field hospital at the University of Alberta will be done next week, Alberta Health Services said on Wednesday.

The Canadian Red Cross is helping with the alternate care centre as part of Alberta’s COVID-19 pandemic response. It has offered similar support to B.C. and Quebec.

The site will be ready mid-January, AHS said, but the 100 beds will be kept in reserve, and will only be used if additional health-care capacity is needed.

Read more: Alberta health minister says field hospital at Edmonton’s Butterdome to be used as a last resort

As of Wednesday, there were 921 Albertans in hospital, 152 of whom were in ICU.

Alberta Health reported 18 additional deaths due to COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the provincial death toll to 1,046. Thirteen of those fatalities were linked to outbreaks at continuing care or hospital facilities.

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When it comes to new cases, 1,287 were identified out of 14,741 tests. That means 100,428 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Alberta since the pandemic started. There are currently 14,555 active cases in Alberta.

Read more: COVID-19: Alberta’s 1st Moderna vaccine dose given to Medicine Hat long-term care resident

Alberta’s first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine were administered Wednesday. As critical health-care workers and long-term care residents and staff continue to be immunized with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, contingency planning continues as well.

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Read more: Alberta receives 16,900 doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine

While new case numbers have declined over the past several days, there has still been a significant number of daily fatalities. Hospitalization and ICU rates have continued to increase slightly.

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Alberta’s chief medical officer of health has explained the continued increase is because hospitalization, ICU and death rates typically lag behind case rates.

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“We also know that things like deaths, hospitalizations, ICU, are what we call lagging indicators,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Monday. “They happen one to two weeks after case numbers start to decline.”

Read more: COVID-19 death toll in Alberta surpasses 1,000; 1st case of U.K. variant identified

AHS said it wants to prepared for any scenario, which is why the Butterdome site is being readied.

Work to set up an Alternate Care Centre (ACC) at the Butterdome on the University of Alberta campus in Edmonton, Alta. Courtesy, Canadian Red Cross

“The structure is similar to what was set up outside the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary in April,” the health agency said in a tweet.

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“Next week, AHS staff will move forward with the final setup of the ACC so that it’s ready, if we require these beds. We continue to monitor hospital capacity throughout the Edmonton zone and our focus remains on caring for our patients and helping see them through the pandemic.”

Work to set up an Alternate Care Centre (ACC) at the Butterdome on the University of Alberta campus in Edmonton, Alta. Courtesy, Canadian Red Cross

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Global News asked AHS how this site will be staffed.

The nurses union — as well as individual front-line health-care workers — have already reported staffing shortages, burnout and employees being redeployed to areas they don’t normally work in as hospitalizations remain high.

“We also wonder how they plan to staff it,” David Harrigan, a spokesperson for the United Nurses of Alberta, said Jan. 3. “Alberta Health Services has not discussed it at all with us.”

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Read more: Alberta nurses’ union calls on AHS to bring back paid leave as COVID-19 pandemic continues

“It would be AHS staff,” an AHS spokesperson told Global News in an email Wednesday.

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

“The ACC could add up to an additional 100 inpatient beds. To be clear, they are not part of AHS’ current planning to expand capacity for COVID(-19) patients to 425 ICU beds and 2,250 regular beds,” AHS added in a statement.

“The beds, as needed, would be used primarily for patients recovering from COVID-19 and who are deemed to be at low risk of transmitting the virus by AHS Infection Prevention and Control. Other patients could also be cared for in the centre.”

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“This is not the first time AHS has worked to increase capacity by using non-traditional health-care facilities as a response to the pandemic. AHS used the Butterdome as a health-care facility earlier this spring, and a temporary structure has been in place for months at the Peter Lougheed Centre.

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“This plan is part of our ongoing, proactive pandemic response planning and is one of several initiatives that will ensure our health-care system can meet increased demand caused by COVID-19.

“In Edmonton, AHS has already opened an additional 65 ICU spaces in the past six weeks, in addition to the zone’s 72 general adult ICU beds.”