Demand for intensive care unit (ICU) spaces in Alberta could exceed capacity by roughly 500 patients by the end of April, according to current models. And those additional patients are unlikely to survive.
The sobering numbers are based on projections by a University of Calgary medical researcher and comments made by Premier Jason Kenney in the Alberta Legislature on Wednesday.
Dr. Christopher Mody, the head of immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, says that with cases in the province doubling every five days, Alberta is on pace to have roughly 27,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections by the end of this month.
Of those, he says about 4,100 are expected to require hospital — and 1,400 will need the ICU.
Fatality rates are impossible to pin down accurately.
Nearly every COVID-19 death is recorded in developed countries, but there are wide variations around how many people are tested and how total infections are tracked. Some research suggests as many as half of those infected show few if any symptoms of illness.
Kenney said Wednesday evening there are currently 509 ICU spaces spread across Alberta and work is underway to raise that number to 925 spaces by April 22.
Kenney says the numbers he’s been given show a peak in COVID-19 cases in mid-May.
Mody says there is still hope to avoid the worst case scenario, but people must do better at limiting contact with others and reduce the doubling time from five days to seven.
“It’s going to take a supreme effort,” said Mody, adding the benefits have the potential to save hundreds, if not thousands of lives.
By doubling every seven days rather than five, the number of COVID-19 infections drops to 8,800 by the end of the month, according to Mody. That would drop hospitalizations to 1,300 and ICU admissions to just 431, he says.
“We might — we might — be able to handle that with available bed space and medical staff that is available,” he said.
At the end of a live presentation Tuesday evening, Mody became emotional, his voice cracking as he warned of the load about to be placed on healthcare workers.
The words he couldn’t bring himself to say were those spoken by Winston Churchill in 1940, when Britain was in danger of falling to Nazi forces: “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”
The few here are front-line health care workers who will increasingly be called on to risk their lives, their family's lives and their mental health in trying to limit the effects of COVID-19.
So far, AHS has not released its internal projections for the eventual impact of the pandemic. While experts caution that models won’t be perfectly accurate, they are helpful in painting an overall picture of the range of possibilities ahead.
In his comments Wednesday evening, Kenney said there is a possibility the province will call on Canadian Forces to assist with emergency field hospitals to help with the spike in cases.