Doctors make ‘desperate’ plea for Calgarians to follow COVID-19 rules as Calgary hospitals fill up

Calgary’s hospitals are filling up with COVID-19 patients once again as an unrelenting third wave — driven primarily by the B117 variant first identified in the U.K. — rages through Alberta. 

The number of COVID-19 patients in Calgary has jumped by 51 per cent in just over two weeks, from 112 on April 1 to 169 on Friday.

At the start of the month, 28 people were in ICU, compared with 42 on Friday.

COVID-19 wards are fully operational across the city. As of Thursday afternoon, roughly 128 of the 188 designated beds on these units were full.

An additional 25 intensive care unit beds have been added to deal with the influx — bringing the total in Calgary’s four adult hospitals to 91. With those surge beds, the city’s ICUs were running at 80 per cent capacity as of Thursday.

And health-care workers have — yet again — been redeployed to care for patients in those ICU surge beds and on the COVID wards.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tremendously frustrated,” said Dr. Peter Jamieson, an associate medical director with Alberta Health Services, Calgary zone.

“We all just desperately want this to be over.… And I think within the walls of the hospital, we all have those same kinds of feelings and frustrations.”

Many staff already reassigned to vaccination clinics

Jamieson has been watching as the number of  COVID-19 patients swells all over again. He says Calgary’s hospitals have the capacity to expand further, and he’s confident patients can be cared for.

But, he warns, this will come at a cost.

“In order to do that, we’re at … significant risk of having to slow down other services to free up the staff in order to look after the COVID patients,” he said.

Surgeries and outpatient services may have to be put on hold yet again.

And the third wave brings with it a new complication, according to Jamieson.

Many of the workers who will be needed have already been redeployed to provide vaccinations.

“So a big surge in COVID patients means that we may need to cut back on our usual services and it may lead to stresses in being able to deliver the other important COVID services like vaccinations.”

Dr. Daniel Niven is an intensive care physician at Peter Lougheed Centre and assistant professor in the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary. (Erin Brooke Burns)

Patients younger, sicker

A Calgary intensive care specialist, Dr. Daniel Niven, says there has been a steady increase in patients coming to the intensive care unit at the Peter Lougheed Centre over the past few weeks.

“There’s no doubt that there’s been a rise and we’re seeing more of these patients everyday,” he said.

“While we’re still seeing patients that are 60 or 70 years of age with a few well controlled medical problems, we’re seeing a number of younger patients who come in with no medical problems and then have severe COVID-19 and need to be placed on a ventilator for life-support.”

Patients also appear to be deteriorating more rapidly.

“There seems to be a higher rate of younger people getting severely ill and getting severely ill very quickly,” said Jamieson.

He says young people can progress from having initial symptoms to critical illness — potentially requiring a ventilator — in just days.

All this leaves Jamieson with a plea for Albertans.

“For our health system to continue to deliver all the services that we want it to, we desperately need the public health measures to be effective, and we really, really need the people of Calgary and Alberta to hang in there and stick the landing on, hopefully, this last wave of public health measures.”

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