Calgary doctor says Alberta ICU admissions will soon exceed second wave peak

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Alberta is on track to exceed peak ICU admissions seen in the second wave should the province refuse to implement additional public health measures, says an emergency physician in Calgary.

Dr. Joe Vipond said only strong government policies, and strict enforcement, will quell the intensity of Alberta’s third wave but neither seem likely as officials stay mum on the possibility of introducing new restrictions.

“It has become evident the government either feels they will be able to vaccinate their way out of this wave or, alternatively, will just allow it to run rampant and suffer the consequences,” said Vipond.

“We’re fooling ourselves to think we’ll be able to vaccinate fast enough to prevent the unnecessary, predicable and preventable suffering from illness and death that are clearly befalling our province.”

ICU admissions peaked at 151 on Dec. 28 during the second wave of the pandemic. That same day, a total 731 Albertans were in hospital (including ICU) and almost 14,700 COVID-19 cases were active in the province.

As of Saturday, active infections are nearing 20,000 with 584 in hospital, 129 of whom are in intensive care.

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“At some point our system will be overwhelmed. I can’t tell you when and how bad but at some point our ICUs will be overfilled,” he said. “It’s not even about the beds. The reality is we need trained staff in order to staff those beds. We’re seeing that in Ontario right now.”

Hospitals in the eastern province have been pushed to the brink, forcing some to transfer patients from COVID-19 hot spots to calmer regions to receive necessary care.

Ontario has also issued two emergency orders to allow out-of-province healthcare workers and staff from other provincial health facilities to work at overburdened hospitals as they tackle devastating COVID-19 admissions.

“Ontario is our future if we allow it to be,” said Vipond.

A base of 173 adult ICU beds are available across the province, said Alberta Health Services (AHS) in a statement, adding they have the ability to increase the number of spaces, as they did in November and December last year.

Thirty-three additional beds have already been added to the Calgary Zone and another 19 in the Edmonton Zone. They now have 99 and 91 ICU spaces, respectively.

ICU capacity in the Calgary Zone is currently at 87 per cent.

“We are constantly monitoring case numbers and preparing our healthcare system to ensure it can meet demand,” said AHS. “This includes adding both ICU and acute care spaces as well as, if necessary, redeploying staff and reducing services as we did during the first and second waves.”

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Mild restrictions introduced at the start of April, related to restaurants, gyms and retail, are marginal in comparison to restrictions enacted in December before the second wave crested, said Vipond. The lockdown-style measures implemented that month included a major shutdown of Alberta businesses.

“We know from (the second) wave that it took three weeks for the numbers go down after that,” said Vipond.

“There’s no reason to think this is going to be any different and that means that every day we delay, we have further exponential growth. It doesn’t take many missed days of restrictions for that to get out of hand.”

This is especially true as Alberta battles the spread of COVID-19 variants, which now make up more than 60 per cent of active infections.

Vipond said the government should, once again, shut down non-essential retail services and enact work-from-home orders for those who are not deemed essential. All Alberta schools should also move to online learning to curb the spread of COVID-19, as hundreds currently face outbreaks.

In the meantime, teachers and essential workers must be prioritized for vaccination, he stressed.

“The final things I’ll put in there is we need our public health officials to acknowledge this is an airborne transmission disease and not contact droplets — predominantly airborne,” said Vipond. “We need better masks, better guidelines and better ventilation.”

alsmith@postmedia.com

Twitter: alanna_smithh

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