The Edmundston Regional Hospital is preparing for the imminent transfer of patients after an influx of COVID-19 cases in intensive care.
New Brunswick reported a record-high number of hospitalizations for the second day on Sunday. There are 15 people in the hospital, including seven in intensive care.
Most of those patients are in the hard-hit Edmundston region (Zone 4). It has seen a recent spike in cases, including spread of the B117 variant. There are now 162 active cases, with 136 in the northwest health zone.
Gabriel St-Amant, an emergency room doctor, said the situation is precarious with more hospital admissions each day.
"We're scared there's going to be a day where we're going to have to decide who dies and who lives, because we won't have the capacity to accept everyone," he told Radio-Canada.
There were eight patients in the intensive care unit, all on ventilators as of late Saturday afternoon, according to the Vitalité Health Network. An additional eight are in a COVID-specific unit for low to moderate care needs.
St-Amant said the ICU requires substantial staffing, resulting in limitations on capacity and how many ventilators can be operated.
"We've reached a critical point and if the situation doesn't improve, there's people who are going to die directly from COVID and there's going to be people who die indirectly from COVID because of a lack of resources," St-Amant said.
'Days or hours' from capacity
Dr. France Desrosiers, president and CEO of Vitalité Health Network, said the regional hospital could reach maximum capacity within days or hours. The surge in cases has been worse than expected.
"It varies so much from one day to another that it's difficult to be precise," she said. "But when we look at the curve, we expect it to happen in the next 24 to 48 hours."
"We're scared there's going to be a day where we're going to have to decide who dies and who lives." - Dr. Gabriel St-Amant
Desrosiers said there is currently enough space for two more COVID-positive patients to be admitted.
Vitalité is preparing for transfers, with the initial plan to send patients with COVID-19 to the Fredericton area. People with other intensive care needs would be moved to the Restigouche region.
In addition to the situation at the Edmundston hospital, there are two active outbreaks at care homes in the city.
Cases have been confirmed at Résidence Rolande Long and Foyer Saint-Jacques.
The Edmundston Hospital faced pressure from rising hospitalizations earlier this year, as the region went into tight lockdown restrictions.
Doctors warned the facility was at risk of being overwhelmed in late January.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, said the problem with the current outbreak is the presence of the "more aggressive" COVID variant first reported in the U.K.
"We would not really want to have to see the situation arise where COVID-positive patients would be transferred outside the zone," she said.
Russell said Public Health will be discussing the possibility of additional restrictions as cases continue to rise. Hospital capacity is a trigger for changing measures.
"At that level of concern, we do need everybody to be vigilant at this time," she said.
"I do think that in the next few days we will see more need for admissions."
11 new cases
New Brunswick reported 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, mostly concentrated in the northwest.
In the Edmundston region (Zone 4), there are nine new cases:
Two people in their 20s.
A person in their 30s.
A person in their 40s.
Three people in their 50s.
Two people in their 60s.
Public Health said two of the cases are contacts of a previous case, while the rest are under investigation.
In the Saint John region (Zone 2), there are two new cases:
A person 19 and under, who is a contact of a previous case.
A person in their 40s, travel-related.
New Brunswick has confirmed 1,652 total cases, including 1,459 recoveries. There have been 30 deaths.
Public Health conducted 517 tests on Saturday, for a total of 260,910 since the start of the pandemic.
Case at Saint John school
A school in the Saint John area is reporting a positive case of COVID-19.
Loch Lomond School has notified families and community members. Public Health is conducting contact tracing and anyone impacted will be reached directly.
Families will be contacted if there are any impacts to learning.
What to do if you have a symptom
People concerned they might have COVID-19 symptoms can take a self-assessment test online.
Public Health says symptoms shown by people with COVID-19 have included:
Fever above 38 C.
New cough or worsening chronic cough.
New onset of fatigue, muscle pain, diarrhea, loss of sense of taste or smell.
In children, symptoms have also included purple markings on the fingers and toes.
People with one of those symptoms should:
Stay at home.
Call Tele-Care 811 or their doctor.
Describe symptoms and travel history.