The effects of COVID-19’s fourth wave in Alberta are being felt once again at testing sites.
The pressure, which is also being felt in hospitals across the province, comes as Alberta identified 4,903 new cases of COVID-19 over the Labour Day long weekend. (Full COVID data below).
On Saturday afternoon, the Edmonton South Assessment Centre at 29 Avenue was lined up out the door with people waiting to be tested for the coronavirus. The site was once again lined up Tuesday afternoon.
In each provincial zone, Alberta Health Services said it is staffing testing sites according to the number of tests booked.
“As we have done in previous waves, we adjust staffing to meet current demands. We have sufficient staffing to meet current demands,” AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said in a statement Tuesday.
AHS said it is currently completing about 10,000 tests per day. It is adding capacity to be able to provide 15,000 tests per day with an average turnaround time for results being 24 hours, AHS said.
Currently, AHS said everyone should receive their results within one to three days, adding turnaround times for results vary by zone depending on demand.
“If necessary, there are additional measures we can take to quickly ramp up additional testing capacity to meet demand if it should exceed 15,000 tests per day,” Williamson said.
Labour Day long weekend COVID-19 data
On Tuesday, the province released COVID-19 data from the last four days.
Over that time, 4,903 new cases of COVID-19 were identified across Alberta. Of those, 1,330 were reported Friday, 1,450 were reported Saturday, 820 were reported Sunday and 1,303 were reported Monday.
Over the same four-day period, hospital and ICU admissions due to COVID-19 have continued to soar.
On Friday, there were 515 people hospitalized with COVID-19, with 118 of them in intensive care.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 602 people in hospital with COVID-19, with 137 being treated in intensive care.
“It has been extremely busy,” said Dr. Shazma Mithani, an emergency room doctor at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital.
“I worked the entire long weekend, and we are seeing a dramatic increase in the volume of COVID-19 patients on the background of already a very busy long weekend. It was a lot. Everybody was very tired.”
Speaking to Global News before Tuesday’s data was released, Mithani said she wouldn’t be surprised to see an increase in hospitalizations over the long weekend.
“We sent a lot of people to the ICU. Just at our site in particular — with COVID-19 — or people coming in from other parts of the province being admitted to the ICU at our site,” she explained.
“It really feels like there has been a big, big jump over the last few days just anecdotally from being at work.”
AHS said Tuesday that provincial ICU capacity is currently at 87 per cent, down from 95 per cent last week.
“AHS continues to do all it can to ensure we have enough ICU capacity to meet patient demand, including opening additional spaces and redeploying staff,” AHS said in a statement.
AHS said it has added 82 additional spaces in the province, for a total of 255 open ICU beds in Alberta.
The Alberta NDP is calling on the government to return to providing regular COVID-19 updates for Albertans.
“I am extremely concerned that neither the premier, nor the health minister, nor the chief medical officer of health was available to take Albertans’ questions this afternoon,” NDP health critic David Shepherd said in a statement.
“Albertans deserve answers on why Jason Kenney and the UCP are failing to take obvious, common sense actions such as introducing vaccine passports.”
‘Still in a bit of denial’
Mithani said she’s been speaking to patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19, adding “most people are not anti-vaxxers, to be clear.”
“It’s typically life circumstances or perhaps not understanding the importance of getting the vaccine as quickly as possible. But I can tell you that I’ve seen a bit of a shift myself this weekend in terms of people who have specifically chosen not to get vaccinated. Unfortunately, they have contracted COVID and become very sick with it,” she said.
“The large majority are remorseful that they did not get the vaccine. A very tiny minority are still in a bit of denial about COVID-19 being the diagnosis that has brought them into hospital and made them this sick.”
As of Monday, 78.6 per cent of eligible Albertans 12 and older had received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 70.6 per cent were fully vaccinated.
Those are both very slight increases from the 78.3 per cent that had received one dose as of Thursday and the 70.2 per cent of eligible Albertans that were fully vaccinated.
Crashing the health-care system
Mithani is a proponent of bringing in a vaccine passport to help slow the spread, as is former chief medical officer of health Dr. James Talbot.
“At the very least, the government should be looking at vaccine passports now,” Talbot said Tuesday.
“You want to get the message out to the people who haven’t been immunized that with the right to refuse the vaccine comes the responsibility to not contribute to the crashing of the health-care system. You also want to get the message out to the people who are immunized that they did the right thing.”
Talbot said passports are being implemented in provinces across Canada — including B.C., Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec — and he said they’re working.
“Doing that reinforces good messages, but it also excludes the non-immunized people from places where transmission is most likely to occur. That’s the number one thing.”
Also Tuesday, eight Edmonton-area mayors penned a letter to Health Minister Tyler Shandro, calling for further COVID-19 measures, including the implementation of a vaccine passport.
In a statement to Global News, Alberta Health spokesperson Lisa Glover said the best way through this pandemic is for every Albertan to get vaccinated.
“Vaccines are safe, effective and offer strong protection against infection and severe outcomes from COVID-19 and its variants,” Glover said.
“We continue to work to remove barriers preventing people from getting vaccinated and provide incentives to those who know vaccines are safe but haven’t yet had time to get their shot.”
Watching the effect of incentives
Last week, Premier Jason Kenney announced a $100 gift card incentive to those who have not yet received their first or second dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
“The new vaccine incentive program is expected to encourage more Albertans to get protected as soon as possible, helping to increase our vaccination rate. Like any new initiative, it will take some time to see the effect on people’s choices,” Glover said.
However, some medical professionals are not convinced the incentive is going to be enough.
“The government has not done a good job at being creative and marketing the vaccine to the people who are most at risk — right now, that is 20- to 55-year-olds. The incentive thing? That’s not going to work by the looks of it, and we should know early this week in terms of the numbers if it’s had any effect at all,” Talbot said.
Alberta also reported 17 additional deaths related to COVID-19 over the last four days. Alberta’s death toll from COVID-19 had now hit 2,407.
There are now 15,486 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, up from 13,495 active cases on Friday afternoon.
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