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New Brunswick doctors brace for COVID-19 pandemic’s worst phase

Click to play video: 'Hospitalizations on the rise in New Brunswick' Hospitalizations on the rise in New Brunswick
New Brunswick health officials say the number of people sick and in hospital could skyrocket over the next few weeks as the Omicron variant reaches its peak. As Tim Roszell reports, that's making for tough decisions for health providers – Jan 12, 2022

New Brunswick residents got a stark reminder this week that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over.

Health officials say case numbers and hospitalizations are expected to skyrocket over the next few weeks as Omicron reaches its peak.

That’s making for tough decisions among health providers.

Officials project about 5,500 cases per day and as many as 220 active hospitalizations, with the numbers peaking in late January or early February.

Read more: COVID-19 — N.B. could see more than 5,000 cases each day in the next month

The province’s hospitals, already bursting with COVID-19 patients, are bracing for more as strategies are being developed to attempt to cope with the onslaught.

“We don’t have a facility that doesn’t have some outbreak area,” Dr. John Dornan, interim president and CEO of Horizon Health Network, said at a COVID-19 technical briefing Tuesday. “And when we have programs like the heart centre, like neurosurgical centres, we can’t simply close the door on such hospitals.”

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Hundreds of health-care workers are off the job due to infection or exposure. That number is also expected to jump.

New Brunswick Medical Society president Dr. Mark MacMillan said the health-care system is managing the pressure at the moment, but staff absences are extremely difficult to overcome.

“As much as we want to provide the best care we can, you need somebody there to actually do it,” MacMillan said. “We can’t just create doctors out of nowhere. We can’t create nurses quickly. Some of us are going to have to start moving around just to cover off other people’s work when they’re off ill. So, it is a dire situation and we definitely don’t want to be here, but we are.”

MacMillan said Horizon and Vitalité health networks are mapping out contingency plans to deal with severe staff shortages, including delaying or cancelling certain services and redeploying available personnel.

Read more: N.B. doctor says province needs immediate lockdown

Within Horizon, MacMillan said those plans depend on whether a hospital is in a “conventional, contingent or crisis” state of care. Each one of those levels increases the sense of urgency and can lead to drastic measures.

“If you’re in a crisis state, you’ll see more things like things happening where people will be called back to work two days after their positive test just because we have to bring them back and they need to work for us,” MacMillan said. “Those things have happened and will happen in the future.”

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MacMillan said asking for help from the federal government is “an option,” but said that’s a decision for the Department of Health.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard told Global News this week that making that type of request is not on the table at this time.

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