Hospitalizations in Alberta catching up with surging COVID-19 cases: doctor

Alberta's chief medical officer of health says COVID-19 hospitalization rates are rising to levels not seen in the province since mid-October when the health-care system was grappling with the fourth wave.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw says the surging number of cases driven by the highly infectious Omicron variant are starting to be reflected in hospital admissions.

“It is important to recognize that any COVID-positive admission has an impact on our acute-care capacity,” Hinshaw said at a news conference Tuesday.

“The bottom line is that our acute-care system remains under serious pressure and COVID-19 continues to pose a risk of severe outcomes to many Albertans.”

She said hospitalizations surpassed 1,000 on Sunday for the first time since Oct. 14. On Tuesday, there were 1,089 people in hospital with the infection, including 104 in intensive care.

“Even if we take into account the proportion of these that are admissions for other causes with an incidental COVID infection, the overall burden on the system is large and growing,” Hinshaw said.

A total of 3,279 new COVID-19 cases were reported Tuesday and nine new deaths. Since the pandemic began, 3,412 people have died in Alberta because of the disease.

Hinshaw said Alberta Health Services will be changing the way it reports the number of people admitted to hospital and intensive care with COVID-19.

The agency will report the proportion of people in hospitals because of COVID-19 compared with those who are admitted due to other causes but who still have it, she said.

Since late last week, 51 per cent of new admissions to non-ICU hospital beds were primarily due to COVID-19 infection, while 49 per cent were not the cause of admission. For intensive care units, the percentage of new admissions due to the illness was 74 per cent, with 26 per cent being incidental infections or unclear.

Hinshaw also said that Albertans who are 18 and older who have immunocompromising conditions will be eligible for a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose five months after their third one.

She said they can book their fourth dose starting on Thursday.

“This will not only help prevent some breakthrough infections that we've been seeing but also decrease the chance that people with immunocompromising conditions could have severe outcomes from COVID-19,” she said.

Some countries have offered fourth doses to the general population, but Hinshaw said Alberta isn't ready to do so.

“We haven't seen data that would indicate that that fourth dose is necessary at this point in time for average Albertans,” she said.

“As we have always done, we will closely monitor data and determine what is recommended with respect to any additional doses.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2022.