As of Friday, 59 people are being treated in ICUs in Calgary hospitals. At the peak of the second wave, there were 52 COVID-19 patients needing ICU care, according to Alberta Health Services.
With numbers and hospitalizations continuing to rise — as well as variants of concern cases, which have statistically led to more hospital admissions and severe outcomes — AHS added more ICU beds in the Calgary zone on Friday, which is also more spaces than were available at the height of the second wave.
According to Dr. Daniel Niven, an ICU physician and assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s Cummings School of Medicine, the number of admissions has risen sharply in the last week.
“We currently feel the way we felt at the peak of wave two,” he said Friday.
“With regard to numbers of patients, maneuvers needed to manage the numbers of patients, numbers of staff on hand.
“So I think many of us already feel like we’re operating fairly close to what that wave two peak looked like.”
Critical care epidemiologist Dr. Kirsten Fiest also said the number of COVID-19 patients in Calgary’s ICUs is “concerning.”
“With high daily case counts, unfortunately comes increases in hospital admissions and ICU cases weeks later,” Fiest said.
‘Going to need more people this time around’
Health officials have repeatedly said it typically takes two weeks for hospitalizations related to a significant spike in cases to actually be admitted.
For Niven, there’s “no doubt it’s going to get worse again,” especially considering most of Alberta’s active cases now are the highly-contagious and more serious variants of concern.
“I think a lot of us would like to see that numbers start to crest and to turn downwards in terms of the total case numbers, because at least then we can know that several weeks down the road, when those new cases have presented themselves as severely ill or not, we can see that there there is a finish line — there and there’s a point at which we’re going to start to see the pressure eased,” he said.
“I think right now, when you when you see the daily case numbers continue to rise, it is very concerning.”
Niven said the ICU staff are already having to call on staff from other areas of the hospital to help with caring for the COVID-19 patients, and are relying on transferring stable patients to other units, and cohorting patients where possible to free up beds.
“It’s safe to say I think we’re going to need more more people this time around to help us match that,” he said.
Also new to this third wave of the pandemic is the age range of those being admitted to hospital and ICUs — younger people are experiencing severe illness, something Niven said should “speak to the impact the virus can have.”
“Wave three really has has just brought the humanity of this whole situation really to a greater light,” he said.
“You know, when you’re having conversations with these people who are in their 30s and 40s about what their odds are if they end up on a ventilator, it’s very challenging.”
Fiest agreed, saying the variants are “leading to more cases of COVID in younger, previously healthy people.”
“Not only are they highly contagious, but the variants of concern make people sicker. This is worrisome with very high daily case counts,” she said.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Friday the government hasn’t received any recommendations for further restrictions from chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, but didn’t rule out the possibility of stricter measures being reintroduced.
“Broader measures, layered measures as we saw in December are a possibility — but that’s going to depend on what the evidence shows. We don’t see that right now at this time,” Shandro said.
Thursday saw one of the highest daily case counts of the pandemic in Alberta, with 1,857 new cases reported. On Friday, Alberta Health confirmed 1,690 new infections. Sixty per cent of Alberta’s 19,446 active cases were variants of concern.
A total of 549 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Friday, with 125 in ICU.
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