QEH ER ready for COVID-19 says department chief

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital's emergency department is ready when the first cases of COVID-19 hit the Island, according to the chief of the ER.

'The problem becomes where do we put them?' says Dr. Ron Whalen

QEH ER prepares for spike in visits due to COVID-19 pandemic

3 years ago
Duration 13:01
'Are we prepared for the volume that potentially could come? Not yet' says QEH ER chief Dr. Ron Whalen, in an interview with CBC's Steve Bruce

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital's emergency department is ready when the first cases of COVID-19 hit the Island, according to emergency department chief Dr. Ron Whalen.

But in an interview with CBC News Friday, Whalen said a large spike in cases could cause problems.

"If there's a lot of sick people coming in the door with COVID that require intubation, we've gotten the department ready for that situation," he said.

"The problem becomes where do we put them? Because the hospital is operating at 100 per cent capacity all the time."

"We'd have to empty out some of the hospital in order to find a home for these people, and that's very difficult." 

Staff has been preparing proper procedures on how to manage a patient with COVID-19, he said.

"Are we prepared for the volume that potentially could come? Not yet." 

He said public health measures are important in slowing the spread of the illness and keeping down the number of cases.

"That becomes a real issue when you start to go above that 100 per cent, 150 per cent capacity — and that's what's happening in Italy and other places that they've just massively blown out their capacity, but in a very short period time."

How do Islanders know they have it? 

The province opened up two facilities this week dedicated to screening for COVID-19 — one in Charlottetown, the other in Summerside.

A nurse holds a coronavirus testing kit at a Wolverhampton, England, testing site. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Islanders who are experiencing flu-like symptoms are encouraged to call 811 for an over-the-phone assessment. Once screening has taken place, those who require further testing will be called within 24 hours to arrange an appointment.

Those who come to the ER who believe they may have coronavirus but are not sick will be asked to leave and call 811, Whalen said.

"We simply are not going to have the capability of dealing with all those minor cases," he said. "Our mandate is going to be to deal with the sick patients whether it's COVID, stroke, heart attack, whatever, and everybody else will have to wait." 

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. The number of cases in Canada is low in comparison to other countries, with 152 cases and one death. One person has tested positive for COVID-19 in Atlantic Canada so far. 

P.E.I. has not recorded any confirmed or presumptive cases.

"Hopefully it never hits," Whalen said. "It'll be an all-hands-on-deck event when it does come, if it does come." 

Whalen said he believes, looking at how COVID-19 spread in Italy, 40 to 50 per cent of ER staff will likely get the virus if they are dealing with a spike in cases, but added most will have only mild symptoms.

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call your local public health authority. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Be aware of evolving travel advisories to different regions.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Steve Bruce


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