Health officials are keeping a very close eye on hospital capacity as Alberta’s COVID-19 cases continue to surge, driving hospitalization numbers to a new high.
Between Friday and Monday, 961 new cases were identified in the province. Another 243 people tested positive on Tuesday.
Hospitalization numbers for COVID-19 are now the highest they’ve been since the start of the pandemic.
According to provincial data, Alberta hit an all time high on Monday with 102 Albertans hospitalized and 13 of those patients in intensive care. As of Tuesday, 100 people were hospitalized with 14 in ICU.
- Saturday: 98 people in hospital, 13 in ICU.
- Sunday: 100 people in hospital, 15 in ICU.
- Monday: 102 people in hospital, 13 in ICU.
- Tuesday: 100 people in hospital, 14 in ICU.
The recent numbers surpass previous peaks of 93 hospitalizations in July and 88 in April.
“We’ve seen an increase in acute care admissions in recent weeks,” Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said on Tuesday, pointing to outbreaks Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre and Edmonton’s Misericordia hospital as key drivers of that increase.
The patients are concentrated in Alberta’s two major cities, with 48 of them in the Edmonton zone, 39 in the Calgary zone and the remaining 13 spread throughout other parts of the province.
“Forty-one per cent of our current COVID hospitalizations are due to acute care outbreaks. We are watching our province’s health system carefully to ensure that hospitalizations and ICU admissions remain within our province’s capacity,” Hinshaw said.
Alberta currently has 70 ICU beds dedicated to COVID-19 treatment. As of Tuesday, 14 Albertans were in intensive care.
Hospitalization numbers manageable for now
Doctors are tracking the number of hospitalizations closely as well.
“It’s concerning, for sure,” said Dr. Jim Kellner, a pediatrics infectious disease specialist with the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine.
“Certainly that number is meaningful and it’s significant. But it’s not pushing our capacity in hospital. When you look at the initial planning for peak capacity at that time, [the province] was looking at many hundreds of beds being occupied for COVID-19 patients.”
Kellner says the slow burn Alberta started seeing after the province began lifting restrictions is being replaced by a steeper rise in case numbers. And what happens in the next two to three weeks will be key.
“The question is, are we still going to be able to maintain this as a slow burn or — to use the other terms — are we going to head into a second wave with a big rise? Or will this be the other scenario of coming to a much lower peak that will then drop off again?” he said.
Even with the recent spikes, Kellner says Alberta is still faring better than other harder hit parts of the country.
“On a per capita basis, our hospitalizations have risen, for sure. But the level of hospitalization is still low. If you compare us some of the other places in Canada — most notably Quebec — our hospitalization rate and our severe outcome rate, like fatalities, is still much much lower,” he said.
Meanwhile, Alberta Health Services says it has plans in place to care for a substantial increase in critically ill patients. That includes stockpiling equipment such as ventilators and having enough trained staff on hand.
“At this point in time, we are able to accommodate the current demand for COVID-19 patients within our usual bed capacity. We have plans in place to increase our ICU capacity should the need arise,” a spokesperson said in a statement emailed to CBC News.
Despite the recent spikes, Alberta’s hospitalization rates have not yet met thresholds that would trigger further mandatory restrictions.
One such trigger is a cumulative increase of five per cent or more in hospitalizations over the previous two weeks.
According to Hinshaw, Alberta’s hospitalization rate has increased 3.8 per cent over that period.
Another statistic that officials are monitoring is ICU bed capacity. The province has said that if 50 per cent of the ICU beds allocated for COVID-19 are full, that would trigger further restrictions.
On Tuesday, 14 of the 70 dedicated ICU beds were full.
“[We are] watching those triggers very very carefully, making sure that we are monitoring the ability of our acute care system to manage new cases,” Hinshaw said.
“And, of course, having put these voluntary measures in place in the Edmonton zone — where we are seeing the majority of our new cases right now — as a measure to try and bend that curve down so that we don’t end up hitting those triggers, ideally.”