Alberta COVID hospitalizations ‘going to get worse before getting better’: ER doc

COVID-19 cases in Alberta hospitals continue to mount as the winter months get closer.

In the weekly pandemic figures report released Wednesday, 56 more COVID cases were in hospital on Oct. 17 from the week before, bringing the total to 1070. ICU cases edged up to 33 from 31 last week.

According to AHS figures, ICU capacity was at 84 per cent provincewide on Wednesday.

There are more COVID-19 cases in hospital this year than the same time last year, but with fewer ICU patients.

Read more: COVID-19 remains a global health emergency, WHO says

On Oct. 17, 2021, there were 218 COVID patients in ICU and 772 in non-ICU spaces, a total of 990. A year later, 33 were in ICU and 1037 in non-ICU spaces for a total of 1070 – 80 more than a year ago.

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Dr. Shazma Mithani, an Edmonton-based emergency physician, expected things to get worse in hospitals as the cold weather sets in and respiratory viruses spread through more of the community.

“This is just the beginning,” Mithani told Shaye Ganam on Tuesday.

“This is still going to get worse over the next several months before it gets better.

“We’re just at the cusp of influenza season. We’re seeing our COVID numbers go up as well. And so we’re going to see impacts of that as added pressure to the already existing pressure on the hospitals right now.”

Mithani said in a typical calendar year, the summer months allow for reprieve in Alberta emergency departments.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 check-up with Dr. Bogoch'

COVID-19 check-up with Dr. Bogoch

The summers of 2020 and 2021 saw troughs in hospitalized COVID patients. On July 24, 2021, a total of 70 COVID hospitalizations marked that summer’s low point. But 2022 bucked that trend, with COVID hospitalizations reaching a low point of 543 on July 9.

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There haven’t been fewer than 400 COVID-19 patients in hospital in all of 2022.

The Health Quality Council of Alberta, which publicly tracks hospital occupancy, doesn’t have data past March 2022. At the latest data point, the University of Alberta Hospital, Peter Lougheed Centre, South Health Campus and Queen Elizabeth II hospital were at above 100 per cent capacity.

Read more: Alberta COVID hospitalizations surpass 1k leaving little room for flu, fall waves

Mithani said capacity in terms of staff available to treat patients is “completely maxed.”

“We’re trying to be as innovative as possible, trying to be as resourceful as possible, because we don’t want to have any patients have a negative outcome from the long wait times in the current situation,” Mithani said.

The E.R. doctor said acuity scores – a measure of how sick a patient is – have been climbing for the past five years.

“What that means for us in the E.R. is that patients are sicker, which means they’re more likely to get admitted. And if they’re more likely to get admitted, they stay in that bed for longer, which means that we can’t use that bed to see people,” she said of one more complicating factor for the health care system.

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Read more: Canada’s top doctor preparing for ‘worst-case scenario’ on COVID variants

Mithani recognized access to family doctors and primary health care can help take care of health issues before they become an emergency. But more Albertans have reported they’ve been unable to get access to a family doctor.

“The E.R. sees everybody, right? We will, and we have to, and we should. However, if there are things that can be managed by a family doctor, of course, that’s ideal.”

She recommended calling a family doctor or 811 to get advice on whether to come to hospital.

“If you’re not vaccinated for influenza and COVID-19 already, please do that. That will prevent you from getting sick and also have a severe illness,” Mithani added.

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The province marked 32 new deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the past week, bringing the pandemic death toll to 4,983.

One of those deaths was of an Albertan in the 30- to 39-year-old age group, another was in the 40- to 49-year-old cohort and another of the 50- to 59-year-old age group. The 80+ age group saw 16 deaths added from last week, and eight in the 70- to 79-year-old cohort.

If the COVID deaths rate continues unabated, Alberta will surpass 5,000 deaths by the end of this week.

The seven-day average positivity rate notched down slightly province-wide to 18.45 per cent.

This year, PCR tests in Alberta have been limited to people with clinical risks of severe outcomes and people who live and/or work in high-risk settings.

&© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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