Calgary

Looming surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations threatens to crash Alberta's acute care system, experts warn Kenney

A group of critical care medical professionals has written an open letter to the premier of Alberta warning there will not be enough health-care workers with the necessary expertise to handle a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions unless he takes immediate action.

Open letter to Alberta premier calls for strict new measures immediately

Dr. Noel Gibney, professor emeritus in the department of critical care medicine at the University of Alberta, was one of several medical experts to sign an open letter to Premier Jason Kenney urging him to beef up restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Alberta. (CBC)

A group of critical care medical professionals has written an open letter to the premier of Alberta warning there will not be enough health-care workers with the necessary expertise to handle a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions unless he takes immediate action.

The letter, which is signed by about 50 intensive care physicians, ICU nurse practitioners and respirologists from across Alberta, calls on Jason Kenney to introduce strong new measures to stem the exponential growth of the pandemic's third wave.

"It is past time for the Government of Alberta to institute strict public health measures similar to those implemented in the first wave," the letter says.

"The reduction in the number of cases in B.C., Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec show that success is possible when strong measures are implemented."

The province reported 2,012 new cases on Monday and four more deaths. Across Alberta, 658 people were being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals, including 154 in intensive care beds.

The province has the highest active case rate in Canada and the United States, with 518 active cases per 100,000 people — more than twice that of the case rate of 252 in Ontario.

The medical experts warn in the letter that, if the rate of spread is not slowed soon, there will be between 300 and 320 COVID patients admitted to the ICUs in Alberta by the end of May. That's in addition to the usual 150 to 174 non-COVID critically ill patients expected to need ICU care.

"It's easy to say that we have the capacity to surge to 425 ICU beds, but we don't have the staff to manage 425 ICU beds with the expertise needed to look after these really sick patients that are on multiple life-support machines," said Dr. Noel Gibney, professor emeritus in the department of critical care medicine at the University of Alberta, and one of the letter's signatories.

"Which means that it's really important that we do something now, as soon as possible, to try and get control of what's happening."

Kenney signalled Monday that his government now believes new steps need to be taken. He is set to make an address to Albertans at 6 p.m. on Tuesday from the McDougall Centre in Calgary.

  • CBC News will carry it live on the website and Facebook.

He said he was angered that a large group of people gathered on the weekend at a rodeo event in Bowden in flagrant violation of the restrictions in place, and that it exemplified a persistent and frustrating problem — that many Albertans simply are not following the rules.

The health-care providers argue that the increase in cases has been due to the more transmissible variants, combined with the premature relaxing of public health measures following the second wave of COVID and current public health restrictions being inadequate to slow transmission in the province.

University of Calgary epidemiologist Kirsten Fiest says she is worried about Alberta's spiking daily case counts, active cases and the record high positivity rates.

"When we get into a situation of 12 per cent or more positivity rate and a number of cases coming from unidentifiable sources, it becomes very concerning and likely that there are a lot more cases circulating in the community that we're just not able to detect," she said.

With files from Jennifer Lee

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