The head of Prince Edward Island's health authority expects to see more COVID-19 hospitalizations in the coming weeks, as a spike in Omicron infections hits hundreds of households across the province.
"I think that for now we are doing just fine, but I also know and fully expect that we'll see more cases in hospitals by the end of this week, next week," said Dr. Michael Gardam, the chief executive officer of Health P.E.I.
"We still have a few more weeks to go before we reach our hospitalization peak."
In an interview with CBC News: Compass, Gardam told host Louise Martin he is "moderately confident" about the province's capability to handle increasing case counts.
"I do think we have all the plans in place to manage that OK."
Gardam's comments come as P.E.I. deals with rising COVID-19 infections. The province has averaged 150 official daily cases for the past seven days.
A record new case count of 222 was announced Wednesday, with the active case count in the province at 1,378.
Three people are currently in hospital because of COVID-19, one of whom is in intensive care.
Gardam said if it were a new wave of the Delta virus variant sweeping through P.E.I., rather than the Omicron variant, "we would be in trouble now."
While it is difficult to predict when the province will reach a peak number of Omicron cases, Gardam said he expects it to happen soon.
"I suspect that parts of Canada will start peaking in their cases by the end of this week. So our hospitalizations are going to go (up) for a couple weeks."
Stopping other services creates other problems
Gardam said he is expecting tens of cases to be admitted to Charlottetown's Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Hospitals will provide the necessary amount of capacity for COVID-19 hospitalizations, he said, adding the issue is figuring out other hospital services that need to be scaled down. Shutting down some non-COVID-19 services can be harmful, he said.
"One of the things we learned throughout the first wave when I was still in Toronto was that you can shut all sorts of stuff down very quickly and you can create lots of capacity, but then you create enormous harm because now people can't get care for other things besides COVID," he said.
"So what we're doing is we're looking out sort of 48 hours in advance and making our best educated guess on how many cases we might have presently and what we have to scale back."
At the moment, the QEH has not needed to reduce other hospital services to accommodate COVID-19 patients, Gardam said.
Absenteeism affecting capacity
Another issue facing P.E.I.'s ability to handle more hospitalizations is a temporarily diminished number of hospital staff, Gardam said.
"Roughly 50 or 60 staff at least are either in what we call work quarantine or their home because they actually have COVID."
As of Jan. 1, 92.3 per cent of Islanders aged 12 and above are fully vaccinated, and 95.5 per cent received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Gardam said P.E.I's high vaccination rate is a factor for low hospitalizations so far.
"That's not preventing a lot of infections these days, but the literature clearly shows that it is able to largely prevent people from getting really sick and ending up in hospital," he said.
Gardam said he's a bit surprised with the low number of hospitalizations in the province, due to most Islanders not having pre-existing immunity from previous variants, such as Delta.
"I'm just going to keep hoping that's that's the case, as well, you know, planning for something worse."
WATCH | See Gardam's interview with Louise Martin in Wednesday's CBC News: Compass: