Alberta patients may be transferred to Ontario as hospitals bear down under COVID-19's 4th wave

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Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, speaks at a news conference about the state of Alberta's hospitals during the fourth wave of COVID-19.  (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta - image credit)
Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, speaks at a news conference about the state of Alberta's hospitals during the fourth wave of COVID-19. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta - image credit)

Alberta hospitals are being told to find non-intensive care beds that can be used for patients who are critically ill with COVID-19.

As a last resort, some patients may even be transferred to Ontario, said Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services (AHS), on Thursday.

"I cannot stress enough how serious the situation is in our hospitals," Yiu told a news conference.

"Ontario has graciously offered their help and we are in discussions with them regarding potential transfer of patients if needed," Yiu said.

There are 896 patients in hospital across the province with COVID-19, including 222 in intensive care.

In the last week, the total number of patients in intensive care has increased by 16 per cent, Yiu said. Every day, 18 to 20 COVID-19 patients are being admitted to ICU, she added.

"This fourth wave has resulted in the sharpest increase in ICU patients that we have seen throughout the pandemic."

AHS has moved to the highest level of its surge response, with hospitals working to add capacity without sacrificing safety, Yiu said.

Operating rooms, recovery wards commandeered

"We have asked our teams to identify and open any spaces that can be used as an ICU bed. This includes spaces such as operating rooms, post-anesthesia care units, observation spaces and recovery wards," she said.

"This means that patients needing critical care may receive it in a space that is not usually used for ICU. We are taking measures to ensure this is safe, given the extraordinary circumstances."

All non-urgent surgeries have been cancelled, Yiu said.

She added that AHS is struggling to find enough health-care workers to fill shifts, especially in the intensive care units.

"We're redeploying staff," she said. "We're bringing on staff that have had ICU training in the past and bringing them back into the system. We've expedited ICU training so that we can bring regular ward staff to try to get them into the ICU."

AHS has asked other provinces if they have front-line workers willing to come to Alberta to help, she said.

More than 1,700 new cases

Alberta has identified 1,718 new cases in the past 24 hours on 16,300 tests, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, told the news conference.

The test positivity rate was 10.6 per cent. Alberta now has 18,706 active cases of COVID-19.

Hinshaw reported 10 new deaths from the disease.

Alberta has declared a state of public health emergency amid rapidly escalating cases and hospitalization rates.

As a result of the declaration, Hinshaw said she would be returning to twice-weekly updates about COVID-19 in Alberta.

On Wednesday, Premier Jason Kenney announced new measures, including limits on social gatherings and strict regulations on businesses, workplaces and places of worship.

Kenney also announced a new proof-of-vaccination program. Starting Monday, Albertans will be required to provide proof of immunization or a negative COVID-19 test to enter certain establishments where the business has agreed to comply with the program.

Kenney said in a live video Facebook question and answer session on Thursday night that vaccine bookings had tripled since Wednesday's announcement.

Those establishments will be exempt from the public health restrictions but must ensure that customers or patrons who are vaccine eligible either provide proof of immunization or a negative COVID-19 test that has been privately obtained.

If a business or service chooses not to require proof of vaccination, they will be required to adhere to the new health measures.

Other measures introduced Wednesday include new restrictions, including capacity limits, on restaurants, indoor gatherings, weddings and funerals, retail, entertainment venues, and indoor sport and fitness.

The regulations include a ban on indoor dining at restaurants, a work-from-home order, and mandatory masking for schools.

Eligible people who are unvaccinated are not permitted to attend any indoor social gathering. Albertans who are vaccinated must limit their indoor social gatherings to two cohorts and a maximum of 10 people.

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