COVID-19: More cases as the race between the variant and the vaccine continues

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Alberta is heading in the same direction as Ontario and stressed hospitals have already moved critical COVID-19 patients into emergency surge areas, one doctor warned Sunday.

“We hear from our members that Edmonton and Calgary have quietly opened up surge ICU beds and there are 30 in each city. That tells you that they’re getting close to exhaustion,” said Dr. James Talbot, co-chairman of the strategic COVID-19 committee for the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association.

On Sunday, Alberta Health announced another 1,437 news cases of COVID-19 in the province. The number of people in hospital increased by 10 to 594, including 140 patients in the ICU. Three more people died.

There was also an increase of variant cases in the province; 932 new cases, bringing the total active variant cases to 12,299, more than 60 per cent of the total active cases in Alberta.

“If this is a race between the variant and the vaccine, the variant is winning. And every time it wins, you get more cases and more people sick, and more stress on the hospital system,” said Talbot. “It takes time for these preventative measures to work.”

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Ontario is facing a particularly difficult third wave, prompting officials to appeal for help and additional health-care staff from other provinces this month. Variant strains of the virus have taken off there, and hospitals in hotspots are shipping critically ill patients to other parts of the province.

In Alberta, intensive care doctors have told Talbot they’re also seeing a shift to younger patients falling ill faster. “Part of it is likely that the variant is more easily transmitted and is infecting a lot more people,” said Talbot.

It’s not clear whether new restrictions will be brought in to reduce that spread. Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw has said it is the politicians who are making the decisions.

But on Friday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said that they don’t have any recommendations from Hinshaw for tightening restrictions, adding the government had anticipated a rise in COVID-19 cases after the Easter long weekend.

“That doesn’t fill me with confidence,” said Talbot. “If you’re going to wait until the last minute — wait until the emergency rooms are choked and the ICUs are full up — you’re not doing a very good job of preparing for the future.”

Talbot said every day Alberta delays restrictions, the peak will get higher and more stress will be added on the system. It will take that much longer to get back to normal.

But there’s hope; peoples’ sacrifices have made a difference, he said. “Albertans have fought this virus to a standstill twice and that matters.”

“I know people are tired,” he said. “(But the vaccines will make a difference.) There won’t be a fourth wave once we get the third wave under control.”

As of Saturday, 1,398,673 does of vaccines had been administrated and there are now 271,490 fully immunized Albertans.


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