Alberta doctors say COVID-19 numbers bring ‘cautious optimism’ amid rising ICU admissions

For three days in a row, the daily COVID-19 case count in Alberta showed a decrease, and active cases also appear to be on the decline.

That’s welcome news to two Alberta doctors who say it shows, at least for now, that restrictions as well as ramped up vaccinations are working to curb the province’s third wave.

Dr. Darren Markland, ICU physician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, told Global News the numbers bring “a little more cautious optimism about this wave” than they did during the second wave, for a number of reasons.

ICU patients are younger, stronger

Markland said while Alberta has seen a significant jump in ICU admissions during the third wave of the pandemic, the patients being cared for are making a rebound faster than the elderly and higher-risk people who were admitted during the first and second waves.

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“Of course, when you’re young, the numbers look bad, but the patient looks good,” he said.

“We watch them very closely in the ICU and they never end up going on breathing machines and they turn around quite quickly.”

Click to play video: 'Status of ICU at Edmonton hospitals'

Status of ICU at Edmonton hospitals

Status of ICU at Edmonton hospitals

Markland said the younger patients who do need a ventilator are on it for a much shorter time than older patients.

“So yeah, more patients, but greater turnaround and fewer complications because people are inherently more healthy.”

More than 700 people were in hospital as of Tuesday in Alberta, a high amid the third wave. Markland said those numbers are reflecting the “bump of the wave” that happened before stricter restrictions were implemented.

“I do believe these restrictions are meaningful and I think we will start to see things turn soon,” he said.

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There were 163 COVID-19 patients in the ICU as of Tuesday’s update, as well as about 60 non-COVID patients, Kenney said. This month has seen the highest number of ICU patients in Alberta’s history.

“We’ve got to keep our eye on (it) because it tells us where we will be with the hospitals in a couple weeks as it takes two to three weeks between people’s diagnosis and their hospitalization if they get really sick,” Kenney said. “Right now we have 25,000 active cases.”

The good news, Kenney said, is the ratio of people being hospitalized and in intensive care has come down a bit. He credits that to the “protective effect of the vaccines.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta launching ad campaign to encourage Albertans to get COVID-19 vaccine'

Alberta launching ad campaign to encourage Albertans to get COVID-19 vaccine

Alberta launching ad campaign to encourage Albertans to get COVID-19 vaccine

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Tuesday that officials are working hard to reach populations who, for a number of reasons, are hesitant to get vaccinated.

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“Some people need more information. Some people need a little bit more time. Some people need to hear information from people in their local community. Some people need practical assistance to remove logistical barriers,” she said.“We are looking at all of those things, as the premier mentioned, working with partners and trying to offer both pragmatic assistance, reduce those logistical barriers, ensure that accurate information is available, and work with partners to make sure that people can hear reliable information from trusted sources to make the best decisions about their health and about the health of those around them.”

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Markland said vaccinations increasing in Alberta is another reason to be cautiously optimistic, but it’s still not reason enough to “break these restrictions.”“We’ve been really clear that we finally got a foot on the brake pedal,” he said.

“I’d really like to see us continue these restrictions until the numbers are really under control and we get our 80 per cent (immunity) — I don’t want to stop these things until we have enough people vaccinated. That way we can control the situation, not have a fourth wave.”

Click to play video: 'Plans underway for Albertans to receive second dose of COVID-19 vaccine'

Plans underway for Albertans to receive second dose of COVID-19 vaccine

Plans underway for Albertans to receive second dose of COVID-19 vaccine
Speaking to Global News Morning Edmonton on Wednesday, University of Alberta infectious disease expert Dr. Stephanie Smith echoed Markland’s sentiment.“I do think that we have a lot of hope in that we have really amazing vaccines, we’re seeing good supply of vaccines and good uptake in our vaccinations. That, in conjunction with the restrictions that are in place right now, are going to get us through this third wave,” she said.“But I think that we have to be a little bit careful being too optimistic about what the vaccines can do right now. Because we still need to get a larger proportion of the population vaccinated before we can ease those restrictions.”

When might restrictions be eased?

Both Alberta’s premier and chief medical officer of health are feeling positive about the likelihood of current restrictions driving the case count down, but warned it’s not time to feel complacent.

“I don’t think it’s realistic that people will be eating in restaurants at the end of May. I do, however, hope, that if we end this spike, start to bend down the curve, that we could relax many or most of the measures we put in place (last week),” Premier Jason Kenney said during a news conference on Tuesday.

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Hinshaw told reporters she knows restrictions are not easy – especially more than a year into the pandemic – but said this round of measures was crucial.

“They are necessary to get this third wave under control and relieve the building pressure on our health-care system. They are also key to giving us more time to get more people vaccinated.”

When the new restrictions were put in place, they were put in place for a minimum of three weeks.

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On May 4, Kenney announced capacity at all retail businesses would be reduced to no more than 10 per cent of customer capacity and places of worship could have no more than 15 people inside, while the maximum capacity at a funeral is 10 people.

Click to play video: 'Alberta tightens COVID-19 rules for at least 3 weeks to prevent looming hospital catastrophe'

Alberta tightens COVID-19 rules for at least 3 weeks to prevent looming hospital catastrophe

Alberta tightens COVID-19 rules for at least 3 weeks to prevent looming hospital catastrophe – May 4, 2021

Restaurants and bars were no longer allowed to keep patios open, they could only be open for takeout or delivery services.

Personal services like nail and hair salons, tattoo parlours and tanning salons were also forced to close.

Outdoor gatherings were limited to no more than five people and Kenney said it was “a strong recommendation” that the gathering have no more than two households.

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Students in kindergarten to Grade 5 were moved to online schooling until at least May 25.

“If Albertans really buckle down in the next couple of weeks and we see that that the active cases are going down again, then and just as vaccines are starting to really take off, good weather comes back up, well, I sure hope at that point that we can pull back some of the measures we had to impose a week ago,” Kenney said.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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