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Alberta doctors, nurses call on province for more transparency amid discrepancies in COVID-19 hospitalization data

An internal Alberta Health Services document obtained by CTV News indicates that the number of patients hospitalized provincially with COVID-19 has surpassed 900, despite available public data revealing just a third of those numbers.

As of Friday, the province's respiratory virus dashboard showed 320 hospitalizations for SARS-CoV-2, indicating the data was up-to-date as of Oct. 21.

However, an internal document obtained by CTV News shows there were actually 898 COVID-19 patients province-wide as of Oct. 21, with an average of 912 COVID-19 patients in hospital over the previous seven days.

The internal document also shows among major medical centres in Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge, 273 patients ended up testing positive for COVID while in hospital for something else as of Oct. 26.

To have upwards of 900 hospitalizations for COVID-19 would mean that these types of hospitalizations have roughly doubled in about a month.

Cameron Westhead, second-vice-president with the United Nurses of Alberta, is calling on the province's chief medical officer of health to address the public to clear the air.

"This government has talked about taking personal responsibility and making decisions that are best for you and your family, but they're not giving us the kind of information we need to make those decisions," he said.

"When we hear discrepancies with COVID hospitalization numbers or case numbers, it just makes people wonder 'what is the real situation out there?' So we need transparency."

Westhead adds that nurses and health-care providers are already on the verge of burnout and rising infections are increasing the burden.

"When nurses are working, they're short staffed, there's a lot of mandatory overtime happening, there are a lot of sick calls, as you can imagine.

"Nurses get sick too, and they have to look after their family members or their children, so there's a lot of pressure being placed on healthcare workers right now."

Alberta's COVID-19 data has not been publicly available for months because of changes made in how the provincial government reports its statistics.

Rather than tracking the number of people with COVID that are taking up hospital beds, the province now reports weekly COVID-19 admissions.

As of Friday, the dashboard showed 742 hospital admissions since Aug 27, which is defined by Alberta Health as ‘the start of respiratory virus season.'

Additionally, as of Friday, the dashboard also confirmed COVID outbreaks at 19 acute care facilities across the province.  


Craig Jenne, a researcher with the University of Calgary's Biology, Immunology and Infectious Disease Department, says that with the data that is available, there has been a "pretty steep" increase in positive cases over the last couple of weeks.

"If we look at that, we're still pretty early in the respiratory virus season, we're not even out of October yet, and we're starting to see this exponential growth," he said.

According to provincial data, the province saw 926 COVID cases from Oct. 15 to Oct 21, which brings this season's total to 5,233.

Jenne says that Albertans are becoming less immune to the COVID-19 virus.

"The virus itself, it's not physically more infectious, but what's happening is we're becoming less immune… and what I mean by that is, it's been so long since most people received a booster or perhaps even were infected, that their immunity is waning.

"Therefore, they have less protection, and the virus has a better chance of infecting them."

Others, like Dr. Eddy Lang, the department head for Emergency Medicine in the Calgary Zone, say an increase in infections is also expected as more Albertans stay indoors due to colder weather.

"The problem is that the hospitals are operating at well over 100 per cent capacity," Lang said.

"We're operating at such a high level of occupancy that there's no place for patients to go, and when our emergency department is so full, that's what exerts the primary pressure on the wait times and prevents our paramedics from getting back on the road and doing the job that they were meant to do."

Other logistical issues for doctors include having to isolate patients to prevent outbreaks, which Lang says can be particularly troublesome for the very elderly, those with lung diseases or other health conditions.


Alberta Health increased its COVID-19 vaccine ordering limit for pharmacies from 100 doses per week to 350 doses starting on Monday, but several pharmacies are still experiencing shortages and some are unable to order Pfizer doses.

Last week, CTV News Calgary reported pharmacies having to cancel appointments due to a lack of supply, and while some have noted an improvement, there are others that say they still don't have enough supply to keep up with demand.

"I still think we might be running a bit short," said Jason Chan Remillard, owner and pharmacist at the Pharmasave Northmount location in northwest Calgary.

"We're only allowed to order once a week and my pharmacy orders on Wednesday to get them on Thursday, so I hope these 360 will be enough to last us until next Wednesday. I guess we'll see what the demand is like. We're fully booked up for today and tomorrow and Monday as well."

The latest COVID-19 updated booster shots first became available to Albertans on Oct. 16.

Health Canada confirmed that Alberta had ordered and received 1,047,710 doses, which included 696,350 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 351,360 of Pfizer.

Pfizer's formulation, however, wasn't fully approved by Health Canada until late September, a few weeks after Moderna's.

Chan Remillard says he woke up at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday just to make sure his pharmacy was able to receive its weekly order.

"I was initially told I was only going to be getting 300 Moderna and no Pfizer, and then there was a line at the bottom saying that 'if at the time of filling the order, if they have Pfizer, they can send us Pfizer,'" he said.

"So I was surprised to get some Pfizer. Ee got a little bit of both, and some people are very brand loyal, right? They definitely want to get the Pfizer or the Moderna, so we at least got both in stock now."

Thankfully, Remillard says most of his customers are understanding, but many people have now had to come in twice for both the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine separately, instead of all at once.

"And sometimes that can just double the work for use with having to rebook appointments and deal with more lineups."

CTV News has reached out to both AHS and Alberta Health for comment in regards to the apparent discrepancy between Alberta's publicly available COVID-19 data and the numbers on the internal documents.

A statement sent on behalf of both AHS and Alberta Health confirmed that AHS' internal COVID-19 hospitalization data is different than what is posted on the Alberta government's respiratory virus dashboard.

"There are a few different ‘currently in hospital’ definitions that are used in the province for specific purposes," the statement reads.

"The two that are most commonly used are below:

  • Patients admitted due to COVID-19 - Includes all patients where COVID is the primary or contributing cause of hospitalization. This is useful for understanding the admission rate due to COVID versus incidental cases. This is often referred to as ‘in hospital due to COVID-19’ and provides an estimate of the burden of disease.
  • All patients that ever had COVID-19 - Includes all patients that have tested positive shortly before an admission or during a visit. This includes the time from their admission until their discharge. This number can include COVID-19 cases who were never admitted or treated for COVID-19 but happened to test positive for COVID-19 (incidental). This is useful for bed capacity planning because all patients affect how beds are utilized. This is often referred to as ‘in hospital with COVID-19." Top Stories

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