NDP leader Rachel Notley was glad to see the Alberta government take steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but fears it may be a case of too little, too late.
Notley was in Red Deer Thursday, addressing the dire situation at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, where ICU patients are being airlifted to other hospitals across the region because of capacity issues.
As of Wednesday, the Red Deer hospital had 54 COVID-19 patients, including 18 in the intensive care. The hospital’s ICU capacity had already been expanded from 12 beds to 22 due to the influx of seriously ill patients.
“We have heard about the hospitalization rate jumping by over 60 per cent and the ICU rate jumping by over 30 per cent and critically ill patients being helicoptered to other parts of the province, all of which is deeply concerning,” said Notley.
“Something that was predictable and avoidable. Here in Red Deer, we’ve seen one MLA question restrictions and we’ve seen the other MLA, who also happens to be a member of cabinet, sit on her hands, say nothing and tell people to expect a perfectly normal school year.
“Most people in Red Deer are waking up this morning to discover that this will not be a perfectly normal school year.”
The Central zone has had more than 200 surgeries cancelled in the past 10 days, something that Alberta Health Services has tried to implement in order to create more urgent care capacity in hospitals.
Notley says it has been predictable for weeks that ICUs would fill up as COVID-19 ran rampant in the province. For those fighting the virus and those waiting on surgeries, the crisis is out of control.
“What we’re seeing happen with respect to ICU capacity, is we’re seeing people have very important, critical surgeries cancelled… All these people are going to be struggling to get what they need and those who are most urgently in need of care may have to be moved to other provinces,” she said.
“Those people – they are loved and part of families of people who are both vaccinated and unvaccinated. As Albertans, what we need to do is come together and think about those people who desperately need our health care system to be there for them. Who are waiting – who are nervous – who are anxious and think about what we can do to come together for their sake.”
Notley is hopeful that with the UCP government declaring a public health emergency is a recognition of how critical it is to act.
With ICUs across the province set to reach capacity, including the surge capacity that had been created to deal with an increase in COVID-19 patients, there are other steps the government could take.
“In the most immediate, what we would have already been doing and we were surprised to learn they have not done this yet, is we’d be reaching out to the federal government – to other provinces in order to get ICU support and health care support for those Albertans who are in urgent need of critical care,” Notley added.
AHS President and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu said Thursday that the province has reached out to Ontario and will be asking other provinces for assistance if needed.
As for the new COVID-19 measures put into place Thursday, including a mandatory work from home order, limiting contacts outside the household – for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, the government also introduced a form of vaccine passport.
Their system, called the Restrictions Exemption Program, comes into place Monday and essentially lets business run as usual, provided they ask for proof of vaccination or require a negative COVID-19 test.
The former premier said she’s been hearing that the restrictions were not laid out very clearly on Wednesday.
“I think they could be enough but they are confusing. I think they are needlessly confusing. I can’t tell if they’re confusing because it was done so quickly, no one was able to write it down or if they’re confusing on purpose so they can still try to claim to their extremist base that they’re not doing vaccine passports,” she said.