Alberta builds COVID-19 hospital capacity; premier says early indication of Omicron peak
Alberta will create new pandemic response units in Edmonton and Calgary as it augments intensive and non-intensive care beds for an expected hospitalization peak later this month.
Premier Jason Kenney said the province would open the response units at the Kaye Edmonton Clinic and South Health Campus by Monday, or sooner if needed. The beds would be used for patients needing "non-significant" care and symptom monitoring.
"The Omicron waves of transmission have typically peaked four weeks after they began," Kenney said, adding that the province is about five weeks from the start of the latest wave of infections.
"We can reasonably expect that we may now be beginning on the downslope," he said.
According to Kenney, wastewater COVID-19 testing shows a "significant" decline in the prevalence of the virus in 15 of 19 communities, including Edmonton and Calgary.
The province reported 3,527 new infections and 264 more hospital admissions, raising the total number of patients receiving care to 1,131 — including 108 in intensive care. That marks the third-highest number of patients in hospital to date.
Eight more deaths were reported on Thursday, pushing the pandemic total to 3,421.
The premier says most jurisdictions have seen a two-week delay from their Omicron peak to the peak of hospitalizations. Kenney says he has "guarded optimism" that both peaks are coming.
To help ease staffing pressures for health-care workers, the province is working to provide community resources like virtual call-in lines and COVID-19 clinics in communities being affected by COVID-19 for those with mild to moderate symptoms.
"We want to avoid having a large number of those people going to emergency wards if they don't have to," Kenney said.
'WE WILL BE READY'
Jason Copping, health minister, said that Alberta Health Services data shows 55 per cent of new non-ICU admissions are due to COVID-19 and that 70 per cent of new ICU admissions are for the virus.
The remainder represents people who incidentally received COVID-19 while receiving care at a hospital.
Emerging data from AHS shows that most people hospitalized during the Omicron wave need only five days of care, compared to 10 when Delta was the dominant variant of concern.
Despite shorter stays and incidental infections, Copping said patients with COVID-19 still need care, and that hospital staff need to abide by protocols, creating staffing challenges.
Kenney said that the health system is operating at 89 per cent capacity, with some individual hospitals and health zones closer to 100 per cent of local capacity.
"We need to keep adapting as the virus changes," said Jason Copping, Copping said. "Any Albertan with COVID-19 who has needed admission to hospital over the past two years has received it. That despite the immense pressures that COVID-19 has put on our health system."
"Fortunately, the number of Albertans in ICU is still well below the total number of ICU patients that we cared for at the peak of the fourth wave, which was 313," said Dr. Verna Yiu, AHS president and CEO.
"Despite the somewhat positive news, we are seeing signs that our ICU teams can expect to see more patients needing their care in the coming weeks."
Yiu said inpatient occupancy is increasing in all health zones, alongside call volumes for EMS surging by 30 per cent and Health Link 811 soaring by more than 300 per cent compared to pre-pandemic times.
"We are seeing more of our own health-care workers become sick or have to quarantine," Yiu said, "means that our healthcare system is facing yet another serious challenge."
"We can meet this challenge," she said.
To help ease staffing pressures, 610 nursing students will join Alberta Health Services to help provide pandemic care. The students will be supervised by trained nurses and receive educational credit.
TOO EARLY FOR RESTRICTION EASE
Kenney said it is too early to say when restrictions will be lifted in the province, but hopes the province has seen the worst.
"We have to get past this Omicron," he said. "We have not yet reached the peak in hospitalizations. We have to support our health-care workers."
There are now more than 64,500 known active cases in the province. However, Alberta's chief medical officer of health estimates the true case count is more than 10 times that indicated by PCR results, as there are a number of restrictions on provincial PCR testing ability.
The next data update is scheduled for Friday.
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