2 hospital morgues see temporary capacity issues as Alberta COVID-19 hospitalizations climb

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WATCH (Sept. 17): As COVID-19 hospitalizations grow, so too do fears over hospital capacity -- beds and staff. Triage protocols have been prepared and are being circulated. They are a last resort but there are warnings Alberta is dangerously close to needed them. Fletcher Kent speaks to a doctor and a nurse who know all too well the pain triage decisions carry – Sep 17, 2021

Alberta Health confirmed Monday that the province identified 1,605 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, 1,592 on Saturday and 1,436 on Sunday.

There are currently 20,614 active cases across the province.

There were 16,409 COVID-19 tests done Friday, 16,529 on Saturday and 13,389 on Sunday.

As of Monday, there were 954 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, 216 of whom were in ICU. To compare, on Friday, there were 911 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, 215 of whom were being cared for in ICU.

Of the 216 patients in ICU with COVID-19, 91.2 per cent are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated, Dr. Deena Hinshaw shared on Twitter Monday.

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ICU capacity

Alberta’s baseline of ICU beds is 173. AHS has been adding ICU capacity, surge beds, cancelling surgeries and redeploying staff to meet patient demand.

On Monday, Alberta Health Services said there were 322 ICU beds in Alberta, including 149 additional spaces that were added as surge beds.

“AHS has opened 49 additional ICU surge spaces in the past seven days,” said AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson.

“There are currently 260 patients in ICU, the vast majority of whom are COVID positive.”

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The number of patients in ICU has increased by 13 per cent in the past seven days, AHS said.

Across the province, ICU capacity (including surge beds) is 81 per cent. Without the surge spaces that were added, ICU capacity would be 150 per cent.

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Alberta’s positivity rate sat at around 10.8 per cent on Monday.

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Alberta’s COVID-19 death toll has reached 2,545, after adding 22 fatalities over the weekend.

Morgue capacity

The Royal Alexandra Hospital and University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton morgues experienced “some temporary capacity issues over the weekend,” AHS confirmed Monday. “This was due to delays in transportation to funeral homes.”

“This has been resolved and our morgues once again have capacity,” Williamson told Global News, adding that Alberta is “not experiencing any significant ongoing issues with a lack of morgue capacity.”

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When capacity challenges arise, AHS works with funeral homes to ease pressure on the hospitals, AHS said. Williamson explained “funeral homes have ample capacity in the zone to assist AHS with the transfer of the deceased.”

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The Alberta Funeral Service Association met with emergency management officers for AHS in 2020 to develop an emergency morgue management plan in the case of surge capacity limitations in hospital morgues, the association said in a statement on Monday.

“We are committed to working with Alberta Health Services and funeral service providers to ensure that all dignity and respect to decedent care is maintained at this time in accordance with the emergency management plan,” said AFSA president Chris Jong.

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Alberta continues to break records for COVID-19 hospitalization numbers.

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On Sept. 19, there were 738 non-ICU cases and 216 ICU cases.

In the third wave, the peak was May 11 for non-ICU cases (565) and May 18 for ICU (182).

In the second wave, non-ICU COVID-19 hospitalizations peaked on Dec. 30 at 761 for non-ICU patients and Dec. 28 at 154 ICU patients.

COVID-19 hospital rates 2020-2021. Courtesy: Alberta Health

Nurses and N95 masks

The nurses union sent out a memo to its members Monday, urging them to wear N95 respirators when they’re around suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients.

“In light of the current Delta-driven fourth wave of COVID-19 and the need to desperately preserve workforce capacity in Alberta, we are urging all of our members to wear fit-tested N95 respirators when caring for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients, to protect themselves, their colleagues and their patients,” the United Nurses of Alberta said.

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“UNA members are permitted to use fit-tested N95 respirators, based on their point of care risk assessment (PCRA), even in situations that do not involve aerosol generating medical procedures, as per the most recent joint statement: ‘COVID-19 and Personal Protective Equipment agreed to between AHS, Covenant Health, UNA, and other health care unions,‘” UNA continued.

Vaccination rates

As of Sunday, 81 per cent of Albertans 12 and older have at least one dose of vaccine and 72.3 per cent are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

According to Alberta Health’s numbers, about 62,445 vaccine doses were administered between Friday and Sunday. As of Sunday, 5,816,752 doses had been administered to Albertans.

“The COVID-19 situation in Alberta is extremely serious,” AHS stressed. “Please, get immunized as quickly as possible, and follow all public health restrictions, including staying home when feeling unwell.”

Vaccination appointments can be made online or by calling 811.


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