A COVID-19 field hospital in Edmonton is now ready to admit patients should regular hospitals in the region become overwhelmed.
The temporary 100-bed facility has been set up inside the Butterdome on the University of Alberta main campus. Officially known as the Universiade Pavilion, the building is a multi-purpose sports complex.
Construction on the facility is complete, Alberta Health Services announced via Twitter on Thursday.
The statement included images of large white medical tents equipped with hospital beds lined up on the gymnasium floor.
The field hospital would only be used if local hospitals are stretched past capacity.
It would care for patients who are recovering from COVID-19 but are at low risk of transmitting the novel coronavirus. In December, an AHS spokesperson said it could also be used to care for other patients without COVID-19.
As of Thursday, 726 people across Alberta were being treated in hospital for COVID-19, including 119 in ICU beds.
Despite decreasing case numbers and hospitalization rates, health officials warn that Alberta hospitals remain under significant strain.
'Only if needed'
"Equipment is onsite and the Pandemic Response Unit at the Butterdome is ready and will open for patient use only if needed," AHS said on Twitter.
"Overall occupancy in Edmonton-area hospitals remains high. We want to be prepared for all possible scenarios, these 100 additional inpatient spaces are part of our ongoing, proactive pandemic response planning."
The field hospital has been characterized by government and provincial health officials as a precautionary measure.
If it needs to open, beds will be opened in a "phased approach," AHS said.
The Butterdome was used as a COVID-19 assessment centre in the spring. Work on the hospital began in late December with help from the Canadian Red Cross.
CBC News reported in December that internal documents contained plans to establish two or more Alberta field hospitals to accommodate up to 750 patients.
That month, Premier Jason Kenney said the field hospital plans were a sign of "responsible planning" in case of a "potential extreme scenario."
At the time, about 500 Albertans were in hospital, including about 100 in intensive care.
Hospitalizations in Alberta peaked on Dec. 30 at 941, including 145 in ICU.
The pandemic continues to burden the health-care system, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday.
The province reported 16 more deaths on Thursday and 678 new cases of the illness.
At least 119,114 Albertans have become infected by the disease, and 1,500 people have died.