Montreal adding hundreds of hospital beds as city remains COVID-19 epicentre

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Montreal is once again the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in Quebec, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said Wednesday as the city's hospital network scrambled to open more beds for a rising number of patients.

The situation in hospitals is worrying, Plante told a news conference. Health officials said 744 of the Montreal region’s 1,000 COVID-dedicated hospital beds were already in use. Of those, 117 beds were being used by patients in intensive care.

"I wish we had better news, because once again Montreal is the epicentre of the pandemic and the situation in hospitals is very, very difficult," Plante said.

The number of daily COVID-19 infections in Quebec crept back above the 2,000 mark on Wednesday as the province reported 2,071 new cases and 35 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. The Health Department said hospitalizations rose by 19 in the past 24 hours, to 1,516, and 229 people were intensive care, a rise of eight.

Health officials have been warning that the province's hospitals could be overwhelmed in the coming weeks and have raised the prospect that hospitals might need to invoke a protocol that determines which patients are admitted to intensive care units.

Sonia Belanger, the head of a health agency for the southern part of Montreal, said four hospitals planned to add up to 310 regular hospital beds for COVID-19 patients and another 43 intensive care beds.

Doctors in her network, she said, have begun training for what she described as the "catastrophic scenario" of having to implement the protocol. "We are preparing, but we will do everything in our power to keep providing care to the Montreal population," she said.

Because of a constant rise in hospitalizations in recent weeks, she said she has had to transfer resources to COVID-19 patients, resulting in cancellations of surgeries and a growing wait list for non-COVID-related services. About 48,000 people are waiting for surgery in the Montreal network, she said.

On a more positive note, Belanger said the city was preparing to cross an important milestone in the vaccination campaign: all of the residents, staff and care personnel in the city's long-term care homes should receive a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by next week, she said.

Health workers will also begin vaccinating members of Montreal's homeless community. The city's public health director said there are eight active outbreaks affecting about 170 homeless people.

Quebec has reported a total of 234,695 infections and 8,815 deaths since the pandemic began. Two deaths previously attributed to COVID-19 were deemed to have been unrelated.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2021.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press