‘It could be ugly’: Alberta’s COVID-19 case count climbs, hospitalizations increase

CALGARY — Alberta’s hospital beds are beginning to fill up with COVID-19 patients again and health care professionals say it is coming at a time when there are already staffing challenges and increased pressure on emergency departments.

Alberta surpassed 1,000 new daily COVID-19 cases in its most recent count Wednesday, with active cases reaching nearly 8,500 and hospitalizations climbing to 284.

“The ability to expand our unit is based on human resources and we don’t have them anymore. We’re calling people back off vacations, they’re just not answering their phones,” said Dr. Darren Markland, an ICU physician in Edmonton.

“We have a serious staffing issue and that’s going to make the next wave super challenging.”

Almost 85 per cent of the people in hospital related to COVID-19 in Alberta are not fully vaccinated, according to Alberta Health.

The number of people in intensive care units due to COVID-19 is climbing, too. On Aug. 1, there were 20 people in the ICU with COVID – three weeks later, that number has almost tripled to 59 people.

“We always knew this was going to happen. You get enough infections, outbreaks occur – this is truly basic science. The fact that we’ve ignored this on purpose was a political decision and it’s biting us now,” said Markland.

“It could be ugly.”

With the overwhelming majority of people hospitalized being unvaccinated, groups say more needs to be done to encourage procrastinating people to get a COVID-19 shot.

“We want society to reopen, absolutely we want to resume back to a level of normalcy,” said Theresa Tang, the chair of the group 19 to Zero, which promotes the need to get the vaccine among young people.

“We are seeing more COVID cases.”

OUTBREAKS AT HOSPITALS, INCREASING PRESSURES

There are also COVID-19 outbreaks at eight hospitals in Alberta, including at three health centres in Calgary. An outbreak is declared by Alberta Health Services (AHS) when there is at least one case of the virus.

AHS says one patient and one health care worker has tested positive for COVID-19 at the Peter Lougheed Centre; One patient at the Foothills Medical Centre; and four patients and one worker at the Rockyview General Hospital tested positive for the virus.

In a statement, AHS says it understands the concerns of emergency department teams as demand at emergency rooms return to pre-pandemic levels. In addition to growing COVID-19 cases, there has also been a spike in opioid overdoses, addition and mental health patients and the typical increase in injuries seen during summer months.

“This is compounded by the fact that our physicians and teams are tired after 18 months of an unprecedented pandemic response, which is now leading to staffing challenges and temporary bed reductions beyond those normally seen during the summer months,” the statement from AHS reads.

AHS adds it is working on easing the pressures on emergency rooms by using its integrated operations centre to coordinate patient flow, making it easier for EMS crews to offload patients when arriving at the hospital and moving patients from emergency department to more appropriate care sites.

It’s also encouraging people to see their family physician or go to urgent care if they don’t need emergency help.

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