EDMONTON -- A new field hospital being set up on Edmonton's University of Alberta campus will be operational by January, but Health Minister Tyler Shandro says it remains a last-ditch contingency.

Shandro says the temporary 100-bed facility would only be necessary if current hospital limits, including creating up to 2,250 beds for COVID-19 patients, are reached.

"This is not part of the current forecast and the current plans that AHS has to be able to get to 2,250 COVID-dedicated beds throughout the system. So this is contingency plan," he said Thursday morning at a new conference about the province expanding its rapid testing program.

The province is getting help on the field hospital project from the Canadian Red Cross. The tent facility will start going up inside the Universiade Pavilion next week.

Universiade Pavilion, a cavernous, multi-purpose sports facility, just south of the downtown, is better known as the Butterdome given its rectangular shape and yellow exterior.

The location was used as an COVID-19 assessment centre in the spring.

If necessary, the field hospital is to be used for non-critical patients and patients who are recovering from COVID-19 but are at low risk of transmitting the novel coronavirus.

Shandro said its use would depend, in part, on how much surgical capacity Alberta's health system wanted to maintain.

According to officials' last estimate, the Edmonton medical zone was seeing up to 60 per cent of non-urgent surgeries that required a hospital stay postponed.

However, the NDP Opposition said the United Conservative government's characterization of the field hospital as contingency planning is downplaying the severity of the situation. 

"I imagine he will keep saying that right up until the moment when the first patients arrive," NDP Leader Rachel Notley told media. 

"We should never have reached this point, but now that we are, Red Cross field hospitals are a prudent step. But we also need the premier to be more frank and honest about this. It is part of a disturbing pattern on his part of withholding crucial information from Albertans." 

Her party has called on the government to update its pandemic modelling and release the chief medical officer of health's full range of public health order recommendations. 


Alberta Health Services would not say if it was considering opening a field hospital anywhere else. 

Alberta already has a field hospital up and running outside the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary as an extension of that hospital's emergency department. It's currently being used to allow for extra physical distancing while emergency patients are treated.

The roughly $3-million Sprung facility took about three weeks to build.

It was erected to ensure the Calgary medical zone had the capacity to treat COVID-19 patients who needed a hospital bed if case numbers surged.

It is open 20 hours a day from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m.

With files from The Canadian Press