Alberta hospitals tighten visitor restrictions as COVID-19 cases soar
487 health-care workers in the province have active cases
Alberta hospitals are tightening restrictions on visitors as a second wave of COVID-19 infections hits.
Under the new restrictions, announced Monday, patients in all Alberta hospitals are limited to one or two designated family or support people for their entire visit.
Alberta broke another pair of grim records on Monday, reporting 20 more COVID-19 deaths, by far the most ever in a single day. That record came with another one, as the province tallied 10,031 active cases of the illness. Across Alberta, 264 people were being treated in hospital for the illness, including 57 who are in ICU beds.
One designated support is allowed for ambulatory, emergency or urgent care visits, and two supports are allowed for in-patients or residents. If the support can be provided virtually, that person is asked not to come to the hospital.
Other visitors — for more visits that aren't directly involved in a patient's health care — are only allowed in end-of-life situations or for patients who are being treated for a life-threatening illness. There are also some exemptions for obstetrics, persons supporting dependent adults and for compassionate reasons.
Dr. Vanessa Meier-Stephenson, an infectious disease physician and researcher at the University of Calgary, says every person that enters a hospital has the potential to carry the virus with them.
"The timing of these new restrictions are absolutely critical … this is such an important part of trying to keep everybody safe and keep the health-care system functioning," she said.
73% of sources of COVID transmission unknown
Currently, 73 per cent of the province's 10,031 active cases have an unknown source of transmission.
We've worked so hard to keep the hospitals and clinics as safe as possible from the virus and to have that break down is unthinkable.- Dr. Fiona Mattatal
There are currently 487 health-care workers in the province who have active cases of COVID-19 —194 in the Calgary zone and 225 in the Edmonton zone. There are also 92 staff connected to outbreaks at three Calgary hospitals currently in isolation.
"Whenever we have to isolate health-care workers, that means that we have less people to pull from to be able to care for individuals … that puts extra strain on those individuals currently working and with the numbers increasing and climbing, there are guaranteed to be more exposures in the hospital," she said.
Alberta Health Services said in an emailed statement that while loved ones play an important role in patients wellbeing, that must be balanced with the pandemic situation and safety of patients and health-care workers.
"This decision was not made lightly. We simply must do all we can to protect our patients and the staff caring for them," an AHS spokesperson said.
"The limiting of visitors, while maintaining designated support person access, allows us to ensure that critical support is available to all patients, while reducing the risk of COVID-19 for all patients, care providers, and extended contacts."
Meier-Stephenson said it's possible that if case numbers don't get under control, visitations could be ended altogether.
"Where the numbers are right now, I'm getting quite uncomfortable and I think this is also echoed among my colleagues, this is getting quite concerning."
Dr. Fiona Mattatal, a Calgary obstetrician, said there are times visitors and patients aren't answering screening questions honestly when entering the hospital.
"The integrity of that whole screening process depends on two things. One is the temperature check, and the second one is people's honesty in answering the questions. I think almost all of us have either directly been involved with or heard of the case where someone was not honest with the screening questions," she said.
Visitor access is allowed only for patients at end-of-life and for those receiving critical care for a life-threatening illness. This decision was not made lightly. We must do all we can to protect our patients and the staff caring for them. More info: <a href="https://t.co/aD3OgDUNYA">https://t.co/aD3OgDUNYA</a>.—@AHS_media
Mattatal said it's paramount that people are honest about symptoms, exposure or recent travel when entering a hospital so proper precautions can be taken.
She said she understands there can be fear — of being perceived as a COVID-19 patient or being denied access — but it's vital to look at the bigger picture.
"If we don't have appropriate PPE, we could be putting ourselves at risk of having the virus, but also bringing it home to our family members … [there's also] the potential for that health-care worker to then be working with the virus without their knowledge and then spreading it to other coworkers or other patients in that environment," she said.
"We've worked so hard to keep the hospitals and clinics as safe as possible from the virus and to have that break down is unthinkable."
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, has stressed that as hospitalizations and ICU cases continue to reach record highs, the hospital system's capacity could be at risk.
"The measures in place right now are literally a matter of life and death, and the choices Albertans are making now will determine our future in a few weeks," she said Monday.
Information on visitor restrictions at hospitals and long-term care centres is available on the Alberta Health Services website.
With files from Jennifer Lee