Canadian Armed Forces called to assist Alberta in its fight against COVID-19’s fourth wave

CALGARY –

The federal government has heard Alberta’s call for help in its struggle against the fourth wave of COVID-19 and it will respond, says a statement from Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.

Blair confirmed that he had responded to a formal request for assistance from Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver, sent earlier this week.

“We acknowledge the difficulties Alberta continues to face during this fourth wave in the ongoing fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” he wrote.

“I recognize the significant, immediate challenges currently facing Albertans, and know the importance of ensuring support to your health care system. As such, I am pleased to officially confirm that the Government of Canada, will support the provincial government’s recent request and provide the necessary support to Albertans during this difficult time.”

Blair’s office confirmed the support would include members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Officials with the CAF says those personnel will include nurses, pilots and crews to help transport patients as part of Operation LASER, the agency’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“CAF aeromedical transportation coordination efforts are underway. This team – which is likely to include a command and control element, CAF air transport assets and aircrew, the Aeromedical Bio-containment Evacuation System, and associated CAF Health Services critical care staff – should be deployable within 24 hours. The deployment of ICU nurses could begin within 72 hours,” said Andrew McKelvey, media relations with the Department of National Defence, in an email to CTV News.

The team will include up to eight ICU nurses.

“CAF members have played a critical role in Canada’s whole-of-government response to COVID-19 since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, last year. CAF members remain ready to respond wherever and however they are needed to help our communities.”

McIver’s letter, which was released to the media on Tuesday, informed the federal government about the current situation facing the province in the fourth wave of COVID-19.

He asked Blair for assistance to relocate patients outside of Alberta for medical treatment as well as additional health care staff to support Alberta Health Services.

“Federal assistance in these two areas has the potential to create significant relief to the healthcare system,” McIver wrote.

Following news of the letter being sent to Blair’s office, Alberta’s Official Opposition criticized the timing of the act.

“Alberta’s frontline healthcare workers need all the help they can get as they struggle with the emergency created by the UCP’s failure to act for months while this crisis escalated. I hope the federal government is able to provide resources to relieve some of this excruciating pressure,” said David Shepherd, the Alberta NDP’s health critic.

UNPRECEDENTED DEMAND ON HOSPITALS

As the surge of the fourth wave continues, Alberta Health Services (AHS) says there are hundreds of patients being treated for COVID-19, including many with severe symptoms in the ICU.

Speaking to the media on Thursday, AHS CEO Dr. Verna Yiu said there are 310 patients in the ICU in Alberta, with 226 of those having COVID-19.

“We have never ever had that number of total patients in the ICU before, never with the prior waves and never in the prior history of this province,” she said.

“Yesterday alone we had 22 Albertans admitted to our ICUs with COVID; the day before we had 23. Over the past five days the number of COVID ICU admissions have been over 23 per day. It’s tragic that we are only able to keep pace with these numbers because, in part, some of our ICU patients have passed away. This reality has a deep and lasting impact on our ICU teams.”

When it comes total capacity in the ICU, Yiu said it’s “very fluid.”

“The capacity that I presented last week is very different from the capacity of this week and every day. The teams are working so hard to create additional capacity so that we actually don’t have to move to the steps of out of province, or having to bring people into the province or, as a last resort that critical care triage, so there is no definitive number right now.

“We are doing everything as I said to optimize and maximize capacity through different workforce models but also looking at using different spaces that we don’t traditionally use.”

According to the latest data from Alberta Health, there are 20,180 active cases in the province, with 1,058 in hospital.

More than 2,600 Albertans have died in connection with COVID-19.

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