Up to 30% of surgeries delayed in Calgary, Edmonton, northern Alberta as COVID hospitalizations rise

Alberta is cutting back scheduled surgeries in its two major cities and the northern part of the province to make room for a possible influx of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Alberta Health Services said beginning Tuesday and for the next two weeks, up to 30 per cent of surgeries in Calgary  Edmonton and North zones would be postponed, as well as some non-urgent procedures and ambulatory appointments.

The cancelled procedures will be rebooked as soon as possible, AHS said, and only those affected will be contacted. 

“These changes will allow our hospitals to expand inpatient beds if necessary and create more capacity for COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization,” AHS said on Twitter.

On Tuesday, there were 635 people in hospital across the province, 143 of whom were in intensive care.

The average age of patients in hospital was 56 — much younger than in earlier waves of the pandemic.

AHS said the province currently has adequate capacity for hospitalized patients including those in intensive care, and that there is capacity to increase ICU spaces and redeploy staff if needed.

The province has set up a 100-bed field hospital at the University of Alberta in Edmonton that has not yet been used, and a field hospital in Calgary has been used as an extension of the Peter Lougheed Centre’s emergency department. 

“AHS is concerned with the increasing number of cases both in the community and in our health care facilities,” AHS said, urging people to continue to follow public health restrictions.

The province saw its highest-ever testing positivity rate on Tuesday at 11.4 per cent, and is nearing its an all-time high active case count with 20,721 active cases. 

Doctors have been sounding the alarm over rising case numbers in recent weeks, calling for increased restrictions as well as prioritized immunizations for front-line workers. 

“The sad reality of this is it’s our third wave, we should be better at this right now,” Dr. Joe Vipond, a Calgary emergency room doctor, said on Monday. 

“We know that it takes good government policy, some strong restrictions, I don’t think there’s another way for mitigating this. All of these illnesses were predictable and preventable. 

Premier Jason Kenney said Monday that he is not currently planning to introduce further public health restrictions as “more rules do not necessarily increase compliance.”

Last month, Alberta had committed to providing tens of thousands of additional surgeries in the coming year to clear its pandemic backlog of 36,000 surgeries. CBC News has reached out to AHS to ask how many surgeries this cancellation will add to the total backlog. 

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