Alberta seeing 18-20 COVID-19 ICU admissions a day: AHS

Alberta is now seeing about 18 to 20 COVID-19 patients admitted to intensive care units daily, according to Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services.

“The pressure on our health-care system continues to be severe,” she said during a Thursday news conference with chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

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AHS continues to add capacity whenever and however it safely can, Yiu said, even converting operating rooms, observation spaces, recovery beds and post-anesthesiology beds into ICU spaces.

As of Thursday, there were 310 ICU spaces, including the 137 additional surge spaces. AHS has added 43 surge spaces in the last seven days, Yiu said.

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Alberta’s current ICU capacity (including the added surge beds) is 86 per cent. Without the added surge space, it would be 155 per cent.

Click to play video: '‘There is no question our ICUs are under extreme pressure’: AHS president'
‘There is no question our ICUs are under extreme pressure’: AHS president

Three-quarters of ICU patients in Alberta are COVID-19 patients, Yiu said.

“This is the sharpest increase in ICU patients we’ve seen throughout the pandemic.

“There is no question that our ICUs are under extreme pressure.”

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However, because AHS keeps finding ways to add capacity, she couldn’t predict a date or bed number when Alberta would officially run out of ICU beds.

“These aren’t standard ICU beds,” she cautioned.

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Click to play video: 'Alberta struggling with ‘workforce’ issues in health-care system amid COVID-19 surge'
Alberta struggling with ‘workforce’ issues in health-care system amid COVID-19 surge

Yiu said as part of activating the highest level of surge response, AHS has its pandemic response units in Edmonton and Calgary ready if needed, patients are being discharged to home care or continuing care as soon as possible (even if it’s not to their city or health zone), more surgeries are being postponed (only surgeries needed within a three-day window will proceed), teams continue to add critical care capacity, retired staff are being asked to return, other staff are being trained for ICU and Alberta is asking other provinces for help.

“Ontario has graciously offered help,” Yiu said, explaining discussions are taking place regarding transferring patients if needed.
Manitoba and B.C. have also been contacted “live as we speak,” Yiu said Thursday afternoon.

Read more: No room in B.C. hospitals for Alberta COVID-19 patients, says province

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“I cannot stress enough how serious the situation is in our province,” she said.

“If you have any fears, concerns or hesitations, please reach out to a trained health-care professional or call 811.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta’s health-care system is on the brink of collapse'
Alberta’s health-care system is on the brink of collapse

Yiu said the health system has never had so many people in intensive care at one time.

Triage has not been activated yet, she said, but staff are being briefed on rules and processes.

“If activated, the triage will be provincial in scope (and) applicable to all health facilities and critical care units in Alberta,” Yiu said Wednesday.

Click to play video: 'Alberta identifies 1,718 new COVID-19 cases, 896 hospitalized, 222 in ICU on Thursday'
Alberta identifies 1,718 new COVID-19 cases, 896 hospitalized, 222 in ICU on Thursday

Daily COVID-19 numbers

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said 1,718 new COVID-19 cases were identified in the last 24 hours out of about 16,300 tests.

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Alberta’s positivity rate sat at 10.6 per cent Thursday.

There were 896 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, 222 of whom were being treated in ICU.

There are 18,706 active cases across the province.

Ten new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours, Hinshaw said.

“Our actions have never mattered more. We have a collective, shared responsibility to keep everyone safe.”

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‘Learn from the West:’ Canada’s top doctor pleads young people to get vaccinated

Hinshaw said in light of the reactivated state of health emergency in Alberta, she will once again being providing public updates and answering questions twice a week.

Hinshaw explains private indoor gathering restrictions

For those who are vaccinated, private indoor social gatherings are limited to a single household, plus a second household, up to a maximum of 10 people. No restrictions apply to children under the age of 12.

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For those who live alone, they can choose two designated people. Those people must remain the same for the duration of the restrictions.
Unvaccinated Albertans (who are eligible for vaccine) must not participate in any private social gatherings outside their immediate household.

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Businesses and venues can implement the restrictions exemption program, requiring proof of vaccination of all guests. If they implement a proof-of-vaccination requirement, they can operate “as usual,” without capacity limits or the 10 p.m. cap on liquor service, Alberta Health said, but with masking.

Businesses do not need to apply to the program; they can simply “consult the material we’ll be posting (Friday) and implement the process described there,” Hinshaw said.

Audits and enforcement will be done, she added.

While employees of businesses that implement the proof-of-immunization program aren’t mandated to be vaccinated themselves, Hinshaw said the employer may decide to require it.

She said Alberta looked at other provincial vaccine passport programs and no other province mandates staff be immunized or provide a negative test.

“We wanted to be consistent with other provinces and have focused the program on patrons for that reason.”

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Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Hinshaw explains difference between business and private resident gathering rules'
COVID-19: Hinshaw explains difference between business and private resident gathering rules

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said she’s heard Albertans’ concerns about a limit on gatherings when people are fully-vaccinated, calling it a “fair question.”

“We have a collective, shared responsibility to keep everyone safe. This is the glue that holds our society together,” Hinshaw said.

“Our health-care system is straining to treat the number of COVID cases in Alberta.”

“While two doses of vaccine are generally about 85 per cent effective at protecting against the Delta variant, that still leaves a 15 per cent window for infection,” she said.

“Since the presence of COVID-19 is so high in the province right now, we need to do all we can to safeguard ourselves and the health-care system and stop providing all opportunities for COVID-19 to slip in.”

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Read more: Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccine passport, new restrictions: How things are going to change

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She also pointed out that private indoor social gatherings have been one of the highest-risk settings for COVID-19 transmission throughout the pandemic.

Hinshaw said commercial settings have the added safeguard of having a “responsible party” to oversee the proof-of-immunization rules.

There can be a maximum of 200 people at an outdoor social gathering, but two metres of physical distancing must be observed at all times.

Click to play video: 'Paying for COVID-19 tests to enjoy Oilers games, live concert events in Edmonton'
Paying for COVID-19 tests to enjoy Oilers games, live concert events in Edmonton

Hinshaw also stressed Thursday that AHS negative tests cannot be used for admittance to a business or venue that’s using the restrictions exemption program. The negative tests must be purchased privately.

She pointed out the vaccine is available to all Albertans free of charge.

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Yiu said Alberta has seen “an increase” in people booking immunization appointments since Wednesday’s announcement.

“Thank you for being kind to those around you, those who work in our hospitals and immunization sites,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Kenney announces Alberta will ‘reluctantly’ introduce proof-of-COVID-19-vaccination program'
Kenney announces Alberta will ‘reluctantly’ introduce proof-of-COVID-19-vaccination program

Vaccination status, voting and election polling stations

Elections Canada has communicated with Alberta Health officials and “no changes to the voting process” will be made “for electors and election day,” an Elections Canada spokesperson said Thursday.

  • All masking requirements remain as is (masking is mandatory and electors will be required to wear a mask to vote).
  • Polling places are not considered “discretionary events and businesses”. Facilities can be used for electoral operations and are not subject to capacity limits that may otherwise be imposed on facilities that choose not to verify vaccination status.
  • Vaccination status of electors is not a factor for voting in these facilities. There is no expectation to check proof of vaccination for either our workers or electors.
  • All health and safety measures currently in place for election day will continue as is — physical distancing, use of hand sanitizer and Plexiglas barriers, single-use pencils and masking by workers and electors.

“We ask that any elector who thinks they may have COVID-19 or who has tested positive for the virus to isolate, stay home and not come to an Elections Canada office or polling place,” said Leanne Nyirfa, an Elections Canada spokesperson.

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The joint news conference came one day after Alberta announced a vaccine passport system and additional public health restrictions in response to soaring ICU rates that are pushing the health system to the brink of collapse.

“We may run out of staff and intensive care beds within the next 10 days,” Premier Jason Kenney said Wednesday.

“Unless we slow (virus) transmission, particularly amongst unvaccinated Albertans, we simply will not be able to provide adequate care to everyone who gets sick.”

However, the NDP released internal AHS modelling data on Thursday, saying Alberta’s ICUs will likely run out of beds and staff earlier than the 10 days Kenney said.

“These AHS projections are based on an ICU admission rate that’s lower than what we’ve seen in the past few days,” said NDP Leader Rachel Notley.

“It’s very sobering to look at the AHS projections into the first week of October that show our hospitals without dozens of beds needed to care for Albertans whose lives hang in the balance.”

Click to play video: 'Premier  Kenney under intense criticism as Alberta health-care system is strained by COVID-19 pandemic'
Premier Kenney under intense criticism as Alberta health-care system is strained by COVID-19 pandemic
Alberta ICU projections, Sept. 2021. Supplied: Alberta NDP

The Opposition leader is calling on the UCP government to immediately seek health support from the federal government and other provinces.

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“Jason Kenney and the UCP were unforgivably late to act and now we are in a deadly crisis. If we cannot mobilize sufficient help from our fellow Canadians, the possibility that health-care workers will have to make traumatic decisions about who lives and who dies, is quite real,” Notley said.

She also said prior waves of the pandemic have shown it takes about four weeks from when overall case numbers peak and start to decline to when ICU numbers peak and begin to decline. The internal data would suggest that Alberta ICUs will likely see a peak ICU rate of 400-450 patients, not the mid- to high-300s, as initially forecast.

Click to play video: 'Doctors in AB, SK warn health-care system on brink of collapse'
Doctors in AB, SK warn health-care system on brink of collapse

Notley also urged the UCP government to provide clarity around the restrictions exemption program and resume a fulsome testing, tracing and contacting program.

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“I call on every Albertan to do their part to avert this catastrophe. Please, however angry you may be at this UCP government, abide by the public health orders… Limit the spread of COVID and save lives.”

Alberta’s baseline ICU capacity is 173. The vast majority (~92 per cent) of COVID-19 patients in ICU are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated.

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Political scientist Duane Bratt says Alberta’s new ‘convoluted’ rules are several weeks too late, calls for Kenney to resign
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