Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. could run out of intensive-care beds, new model predicts

COVID-19 models released in Newfoundland and Labrador Wednesday evening project that the province will exceed its intensive-care capacity by the end of June if the spread of the virus continues its current rate of growth.

Peak likely to come in fall, projects numbers provided by province's analytics team

Dr. Proton Rahman is a professor of medicine and a clinical researcher at Memorial University's medical school. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

COVID-19 models released in Newfoundland and Labrador Wednesday evening project that the province will exceed its intensive-care capacity by the end of June if the spread of the virus continues its current rate of growth.

The provincial government released two scenarios Wednesday. The first assumes current restrictions remain in place and projects 32 per cent of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians infected over a two-year period.

Under that scenario, the peak of the virus would occur in early November, and the province would have enough hospital beds and ventilators to weather the pandemic.

Intensive-care units would still be overwhelmed, however, with the province projecting it would exceed capacity — 57 beds when the modelling was done — by late June.

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The second model projects a scenario in which current restrictions are eased and assumes 52 per cent of people in the province infected over the same two-year period. In that scenario, the peak comes sooner — mid-September — and overwhelms hospital beds, intensive-care units and ventilators.

Neither scenario projects estimated deaths.

"We are at a pivotal point right now to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It is that simple," said Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer, Wednesday evening.

"We are in this for a long time yet and as difficult as it has been we must keep the pedal to the floor.… If we ease up on our efforts two weeks from now will be a very different picture, and two months from now will be catastrophic."

Janice Fitzgerald is Newfoundland and Labrador's medical officer of health. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador )

Public health officials say with just two deaths in Newfoundland and Labrador, there isn't yet enough data to make accurate projections under the long-term models provided in partnership with the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

The models also illustrate the effect of the cluster of cases that resulted from Caul's Funeral Home on the virus's spread in the province. Newfoundland and Labrador currently has the second-highest number of cases per capita in Canada, second only to Quebec, but the so-called Caul's cluster accounts for about 75 per cent of the total cases.

The spread of the remaining cases in Newfoundland and Labrador is much slower, and public health officials say the province is seeing a positive effect from restrictions on travel and public gatherings.

Dr. Proton Rahman, Eastern Health clinical scientist and professor of medicine at Memorial University, headed the province's analytics team, responsible for the province's short-term models.

Short term models project about 200 cases would arrive in acute care by the end of April and increase exponentially each month if public health restrictions stopped today.

Dwight Ball addressed Newfoundland and Labrador residents in a televised news conference Wednesday evening. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador )

However, the model suggests if the population continues to adhere to physical distancing measures roughly 25 cases will see admission.

"These are what-if scenarios and not necessarily married in that much science right now," Rahman said Wednesday evening.

Short-term modelling, in 30- or 60-day intervals, will be useful to the province's four health authorities to help them prepare their own capacity and make any changes to deal with an influx in cases, Health Minister John Haggie said.

Haggie said contingency plans are being put in place with regional health authorities as to how to address any shortages in intensive-care beds.

Health Minister John Haggie says decisions that N.L. residents make in the coming days will affect the health system for weeks to come. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

"This cannot be about waiting out this virus. It's about adapting to its existence and creating our own new normal," he said.

"This is not going to go away any time soon, and it's going to echo in some form or another through the rest of the year. How bad those echos are depends on how we behave."

Premier Dwight Ball ended Wednesday's briefing by saying that curbing the spread of COVID-19 is the public's responsibility. 

"This is not a test of our system. It's a test of you," Ball said. "The system fails only if you fail. What we do this weekend and beyond will make it or break it."

New cases on Wednesday

The Newfoundland and Labrador government announced four new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, just hours before it is set to disclose models of how seriously the highly infectious disease may affect the province. 

The new cases have been found in the Eastern Health and Central Health regions of the province. 

This brings the total number of confirmed cases in the province to 232.

By region, 219 cases have now been identified within Eastern Health, the largest health authority in the province. Six are in Central Health, one is in Western Health and six are in Labrador-Grenfell.

According to a government statement, six people are in hospital due to the virus. That is the smallest that figure has been since March 28. 

Two patients are currently in intensive care.

Twenty-five people have been added to the recovered list, bringing the provincial total to 74 — the single biggest jump in the recovered list since the outbreak began in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

As of the statement, 4,149 people have been tested across the province.

By age of those who have tested positive:

  • 20 people are 19 years old and under.
  • 34 are between 20 and 39 years old.
  • 33 between are between 40 and 49 years old.
  • 51 are between 50 and 59 years old.
  • 50 are between 60 and 69 years old.
  • 44 are 70 years old and older.

Projections unclear

Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has said projection models aren't crystal clear.

On Tuesday, Haggie said the same for Newfoundland and Labrador.

"We'll talk about what the future may hold. These are possibilities, these are probabilities and they are looking at the future through a fuzzy telescope or fuzzy crystal ball," the health minister said. 

"But they are things that we need to do because we need as administrators, as civil servants, to try and be able to plan on your behalf for the worst-case scenarios whilst hoping for the best."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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