Alberta sees record number of ICU admissions as COVID-19 hospitalizations soar

Alberta hospitals are seeing their highest-ever number of patients being admitted for critical care — and part of the reason they’re able to keep up is because of a high number of deaths from COVID-19, says the head of Alberta Health Services (AHS). 

Over the past five days, the average number COVID-19 intensive care unit admissions has been over 23 per day, Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, said at a Thursday news conference. There are currently 310 people in ICU across the province, including 226 with COVID-19. 

“We have never, ever had that number of total patients in ICU before. Never with the prior waves and never in the history of this province,” she said. 

“It’s tragic that we are only able to keep pace with these sort of numbers because, in part, some of our ICU patients have passed away. And this reality has a deep and lasting impact on our ICU teams.”

Alberta reported another 17 deaths on Thursday as COVID-19 continues to strain its hospitals. There are now 1,058 hospitalized cases of COVID-19 across the province.

AHS has already more than doubled the baseline capacity for intensive care beds, and is struggling to add more capacity every day. That includes transferring patients between zones on days when ICU admissions in hospitals outnumber available beds, Yiu said.

“Nothing is really standard about this situation right now, including staff ratios and some of the patient care we are providing outside of our ICUs.”

Unvaccinated admissions

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said all new ICU admissions were among Albertans who had no immunization.

Hinshaw once again pushed Albertans to get vaccinated and provided sobering statistics about the risk of not doing so.

Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, says there are 310 Albertans in ICU, of which 226 patients have COVID-19. Yiu says it’s tragic that they can only keep pace with ICU admissions because some have passed away. 1:18

People who aren’t fully immunized are 15 times more likely to end up in hospital and 40 times more likely to be admitted to the ICU, she said.

Around 77 per cent of Albertans in hospital are not fully vaccinated while 92 per cent in the ICU have not had both shots, she said.

Alberta reported 1,660 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday after 18,000 tests for a positivity rate of 9.4 per cent.

COVID-19 infection gathering

Hinshaw addressed reports of a gathering in Edson, Alta., that took place with an intention to acquire COVID-19 to develop post-infection immunity that saw some attendees end up in Edmonton ICU. 

She said she could not confirm the event took place but had stern words for anyone considering that type of behaviour.

“What is important to know is that anyone contemplating this kind of activity should know that this consequence — severe illness, and transmitting to others who may become severely ill or even die — is an absolutely likely outcome. 

“Hosting or attending an event like this in the current time of crisis is irresponsible and dangerous.”

There are 20,180 active cases across the province. Here’s how they break down:

  • Edmonton zone: 5,549.
  • Calgary zone: 5,224.
  • North zone: 3,620.
  • Central zone: 3,591.
  • South zone: 2,178.
  • Unknown: 18.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Thursday the federal government will pitch in after Alberta asked for help with airlifting COVID-19 patients, and to be lent ICU-registered nurses and respiratory therapists.

Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver formally requested federal aid in a letter to Blair Tuesday.