Alberta’s chief medical officer of health is urging residents to remain vigilant and get vaccinated as the province’s acute-care system is under enormous stress amid the Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported there were 1,089 people in hospital with COVID-19, with 104 of those people receiving care in the ICU.
Since late last week, 51 per cent of non-ICU admissions were due to COVID-19 infection, while 49 per cent didn’t have COVID-19 as a factor or it was not possible to determine whether the virus was a factor.
In the ICU, 74 per cent of new admissions were due to COVID-19, Hinshaw said.
“This is a different trend than what we have seen with previous variants, and it is due to the much higher transmissibility of Omciron.
“The bottom line is that our acute-care system remains under serious pressure and COVID-19 continues to pose a risk of severe outcomes to many Albertans.
Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 surpassed 1,000 for the first time since Oct. 14 on Sunday, Hinshaw added.
“Even if we take into account the proportion of these that are admissions for other causes with an incidental COVID infection, the overall burden on the system is large and growing.
“This rise will continue to put pressure on our health system and the workers who take care of us.”
Dr. Neeja Bakshi, a physician at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital, is hoping to show exactly how overrun hospitals in Alberta are with the internal medicine doctor describing the situation as “chaos.”
On Monday, she posted a photo to Twitter following her shift working on the COVID-19 ward at the hospital.
Her mask-marked face and tired eyes showed the exhaustion she felt. She used the hashtag #RunningOnEmpty and encouraged others to post similar photos.
Bakshi received an overwhelming response.
“You can see the fatigue in their eyes, you can see the sadness,” she said. “And I think that’s really important, that we don’t lose the human piece of this.”
Bakshi said staff are working extremely hard to ensure patient care is not compromised but there are processes that have slowed down.
“When you’ve got this volume of patients, you’re not going to be able to get the diagnostic imaging you need in the same timeline that you did maybe two or three years ago,” she explained.
In a statement to Global News, Alberta Health Services said surgeries are not having to be postponed yet, but “that is likely if hospitalizations and ICU numbers continue to increase as we have seen in recent days.”
Staff continue to be redeployed to the “area of greatest need where their skillset can be utilized.”
Non-clinical staff may also be redeployed to duties such as entry screening, booking testing appointments and administration and clerk duties as needed, an AHS spokesperson said.
AHS president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu penned an op-ed in the Edmonton Journal Tuesday.
In it, she tried to reassure Albertans.
“Every single person requiring ICU care during the past two years has received it, despite an unprecedented increase in demand that has pushed our system and our people to the limit,” Yiu wrote.
But she admitted AHS is once again scaling up capacity.
“We don’t yet know exactly how Omicron will impact us but based on the evidence, we’re adjusting our contingency plans to add hundreds more spaces in addition to ICU, for patients who need an intermediate level of hospital care,” wrote Yiu.
Both she and Bakshi pointed out adding beds is one thing but those beds need to be staffed.
“Every time we increase capacity it means I have to find more physicians to work and we’re really running out of the pool of physicians to work,” Bakshi said.
Hinshaw was asked Tuesday who would staff those beds and whether Alberta was considering asking other provinces or the military for help. She said she did not have those details.
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As the Omicron variant continues to surge in Alberta, Hinshaw urged everyone to continue to follow public health guidelines and to get vaccinated, including a booster shot if they haven’t received one yet.
Albertans are also encouraged to continue to stay home when sick, to physically distance, to reduce social contacts and to wear a mask in public.
“The decisions we make now and the steps we take each day are critical to ensure the health care we need is available when we need it and where we need it,” Hinshaw said.
Over the past 24 hours, there were nine additional COVID-19 deaths reported to Alberta Health.
Three of the deaths occurred in the Edmonton zone: two males in their 80s and a woman in her 60s, all with pre-existing conditions.
Three of the deaths were in the Calgary zone: two women and a man in their 80s, all with pre-existing conditions.
Two of the deaths were in the South zone: a man in his 90s and a woman in her 80s, all with pre-existing conditions.
One woman in her 60s with no pre-existing conditions died in the North zone.
The province confirmed 3,279 new lab-confirmed cases from 8,995 tests. The province’s positivity rate was 38.8 per cent.
There were 70,223 lab-confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.
As the province has changed PCR testing criteria, Hinshaw has previously said the daily case and active case counts are likely at least 10 times higher than confirmed.