The fast-spreading Omicron variant is now connected to four Alberta hospital outbreaks according to Alberta Health Services.
The largest is at the Alberta Hospital Edmonton (AHE), with all 51 outbreak cases confirmed to be the Omicron variant.
The AHE outbreak was first reported on a single unit on Dec. 30. There are now four units under outbreak status.
The Misericordia Community Hospital and Calgary’s South Health Campus and Foothills Medical Centre also have Omicron cases linked to outbreaks.
There are three confirmed Omicron outbreak cases at Misericordia, six at South Health Campus and one at Foothills hospital.
There are also outbreaks at other Alberta hospitals and facilities, although it hasn’t been confirmed if they are from Omicron or are from older variants such as Delta.
Outbreaks have been reported by AHS at two north zone hospitals, five in Edmonton, three in central Alberta, four hospitals in Calgary, and the hospital in Lethbridge. Those numbers were updated on Thursday.
COVID-19 outbreaks have continued to climb since late December at hospitals and rural health centres across Alberta.
In total, there are currently 14 acute care outbreaks, 11 of which started in the last three weeks.
“Outbreak control measures have been implemented on each of the affected units,” according to AHS. “Any patient with symptoms, or who has tested positive for COVID-19, is isolated and treated in designated rooms. All at-risk patients on each unit have been tested.”
Front-line staff struggling amid Omicron surge
Dr. Raiyan Chowdhury said his hospital suffered a hit to staffing levels in recent days because of the Omicron variant.
“This week we had another physician who had to go into isolation,” he said. “You can imagine all ICUs throughout the city are busy, even if they don’t have an Omicron surge. Finding people to cover can be difficult.”
He said there has also been challenges with filling nursing shifts.
“When you get six or seven nursing sick calls a day…it makes things a lot more difficult.”
The critical care specialist at the Royal Alexandra Hospital said he estimates Omicron will pose a “significant problem” in terms of spread in the coming weeks, saying there was no patient to staff transmission of Delta he is aware of.
“But with Omicron that’s almost a certainty.”
AHS said it is beginning to see “increased numbers of health-care workers off on sick days.”
A statement to Global News said that shortage is beginning to impact some health-care services, particularly some acute care services at rural sites where staff illness or isolation is leading to staffing challenges.
But AHS said it has been planning for increased staff illness and promised “Albertans who need care will receive it.”
“Plans include shifting staff members to areas of highest priority, using alternate models of care, and prioritizing HCWs (health-care workers) for testing to maximize available workforce.
AHS a reduction in services and surgeries will be contemplated again, if needed.
In December, the number of COVID-19 positive health-care workers appears in line with what has been seen in recent months, AHS said. It said early indications from electronic staffing systems is that the sick rate for December 2021 will not be much different from previous years.
“However, we know we will see increased sick rates in the days ahead as Omicron spread continues,” AHS said.
“There’s a feeling…or at least a projection…that a lot of us will get it at this point,” Chowdry said. “I’m worried about if and when I get it. What does that mean for my family…and who’s going to have to cover my shift?”