Coronavirus Canada Updates: Alberta requests field hospitals from Ottawa and Red Cross as rising COVID cases strain capacity

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Coronavirus Canada Updates: Saskatchewan reports 2 new COVID-19 deaths, 92 patients in hospital
Coronavirus Canada Updates: Saskatchewan reports 2 new COVID-19 deaths, 92 patients in hospital

The Alberta government has asked the federal government and the Red Cross to supply four field hospitals to care for patients as the COVID-19 case numbers in the province continue to rise, straining the capacity of the health-care system in the province.

The request is for “a structure and beds and other equipment, not for Red Cross staff,” said an Alberta government source.

For weeks, the province has been struggling to keep case counts under control, adding more stringent restrictions in recent weeks, including a total ban on in-home gatherings and restricting fitness facilities and hours when Albertans can drink in bars.

But the request is a sign that the scenario Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, has warned of is coming to fruition: Already in parts of the province, there have been cancellations of non-essential surgeries because of the COVID burden on hospitals.

Alberta has seen significant increases in daily case counts in recent weeks. As of Wednesday afternoon’s update, there were 16,144 active cases in the province, with 504 people in hospital, 97 in the ICU. More than 560 people have died.

The Alberta government has promised to ensure there are 425 intensive care unit beds and 2,250 regular beds to care for COVID-19 patients. The field hospital request is not part of the planning to expand ICU and regular hospital beds, said Health Minister Tyler Shandro at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.

“This is not part of our current plans, this is conversations about a contingency plan,” said Shandro. “This is a conversation that was had with Red Cross to understand if that was even possible.”

In a report from CBC, a federal source said the province was likely to receive four hospitals, two from the federal government and two from the Red Cross. Another source within the Alberta government confirmed the request has been made, but also said it was “contingency planning,” should the pandemic continue to get worse, and that there is “no specific plan to activate them.”

The Red Cross declined to comment specifically, referring the National Post to Alberta Health Services. The organization did say it “continues to work with all levels of government to address emerging needs across the country.”

In the early days of the pandemic, the province set up a field hospital in Calgary; the request is for similar tents, the source said.

Alberta is not alone in its plans for field hospitals. Vancouver, for example, has converted the Vancouver Convention Centre into a field hospital.

David Shepherd, the New Democrat health critic in Alberta, said there were “serious and obvious warning signs” of the trouble the medical system was in.

“It’s staggering that we are standing here today and talking about the potential of bringing in federal field hospitals, but yet still don’t have something as simple as a provincial mask mandate,” Shepherd said.

Alberta’s COVID response has attracted criticism with the rise in the province’s cases. Actor William Shatner waded into the fray on Wednesday, tweeting the province should adopt the Health Canada COVID tracker app.

Alberta has seen significant increases in daily case counts in recent weeks. As of Wednesday afternoon’s update, there were 17,144 active cases in the province, with 504 people in hospital, 97 in the ICU. More than 560 people have died.

“This request is just one example of contingency planning,” said the first Alberta government source.

In the early days of the pandemic, the province set up a field hospital in Calgary; the request is for similar tents, the source said.

The federal health minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment by deadline. A spokesperson for Alberta Health Services declined to answer further queries from the Post.

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