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Alberta projects COVID hospitalizations could soon soar to 775

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EDMONTON — Alberta Health projections released by the Opposition predict COVID-19 hospitalizations could soar to 775 by mid-December and the number of intensive care patients could reach 161.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley says the numbers suggest the United Conservative government waited too long to act, then introduced ineffective half measures to combat the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Our province is reporting the highest rate of COVID in the country,” Notley told Premier Jason Kenney during question period Tuesday.

 “The models showed you a second wave was coming. Why did you not prepare?”

Kenney’s government has in recent weeks declined to provide internal projections on potential COVID-19 effects on hospital and intensive care wards, although Kenney said this week those numbers might be provided in the coming days.

The latest numbers were leaked to the NDP.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, said the projections are the "worst-case scenario" and don't take into account the recently announced new restrictions.

"That is exactly the point of those restrictions ... to prevent us from hitting those high projections because what we need to do is bend that curve down," said Hinshaw.

Alberta's daily case count has sat above 1,000 for almost two weeks, putting a significant strain on the health-care system.

There are a total of 173 intensive care beds in Alberta. On Tuesday, there were 97 COVID-19 ICU patients of a total 479 in hospitals.

Alberta Health Services, the front-line operational arm of Alberta Health, is rearranging and reassigning space, staff and patients to create another 250 ICU beds. 

AHS spokesman Kerry Williamson said in an email that Calgary exceeded maximum ICU capacity Monday, but had space because 10 new beds had been added. Edmonton was at 95 per cent ICU capacity, but had 18 spaces available because of 20 new beds.

Twenty acute-care hospitals, including the major ones in Calgary and Edmonton, are dealing with COVID outbreaks of their own.

To stem the surge in cases, Kenney announced tighter health restrictions last week aimed at reducing community spread while keeping businesses and the economy as open as possible.

No social gatherings are allowed in people’s homes. Restaurants and bars can stay open, but only six people can be at one table and they all must live under the same roof.

The province is to review the measures mid-December and may intensify or add to them if the skyrocketing spread continues.

The NDP and some doctors say the public-health orders, while aimed at balancing health and the economy, will ultimately fail both and a short, sharp lockdown is the way to go.

Alberta is also facing the challenge of tracking spread. Health officials do not know where about 80 per cent of recent cases came from. 

Kenney reiterated that the province has 800 contact tracers and is working to hire 400 more while moving more part-time tracers to full-time status.

“Alberta Health Services is pulling out the stops and has been for weeks to add capacity,” Kenney told the house.

“We made it clear to them from Day 1 that budget is not an issue, that we are giving them maximum resources ... in hiring and training, and bringing people on board."

Notley criticized Kenney for not moving faster during the summer to hire more contact tracers. She noted Alberta lags behind other comparable provinces.

“B.C. has 26 contact tracers per 100,000 (people). Saskatchewan and Manitoba, 30. Ontario, 27. Alberta, 18,” said Notley.

“Contact tracing is strained across the country, that is true, but only in this province is it broken.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2020.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press