More hospital spaces are being sought, and the province is looking at whether social gatherings should be restricted to less than 50 people. (Courtesy Photo | NIAID-RML via AP)

Three weeks of COVID-19 cases have left AHS staff seeking out more hospital spaces

Province is examining the 50-person limit for social gatherings

Alberta Health Services staff are seeking out more hospital spaces that can be freed up in case there’s a surge in new COVID-19 cases in coming weeks.

AHS vice-president Dr. Mark Joffe said there are roughly 8,500 hospital beds in the province and about 2,250 of them are being set aside for COVID-19 patients.

AHS is looking at closed hospital wards and other under-used spaces to see if they can be maximized, or whether extra beds can be moved into some rooms if there’s enough social distancing space.

Joffre, said the preference is to treat people in their own communities, but he doesn’t rule out moving patients to other facilities if needed.

At this time elective surgeries are being cancelled at hospitals, but cancer surgeries and other urgent operations are still being done.

On Thursday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health for Alberta, said it’s been three weeks since the first case of the coronavirus was identified in the province.

She confirmed there are now 486 cases in Alberta, including 67 new cases reported on Thursday.

Currently, 21 are being treated in hospitals, with 10 in intensive care unit. But out of the provincial total, 27 people are now considered recovered — a big increase from the three that were previously reported.

As greater efforts are made to track recovering cases, Hinshaw expects this good-news number to grow substantially.

What’s troubling is that 34 viral cases have resulted from community transmission, many with no known traceable contacts for most of these cases.

She urged Albertans not to become complacent because this indicates that many more unidentified cases of the virus exist in the province than the official numbers show — as many most people with COVID-19 exhibit mild to moderate symptoms.

With likely weeks of virus fighting ahead, Hinshaw believes it’s too early to comment on whether Alberta is managing to flatten the curve of COVID-19 spread. But she credited all the Albertans who are doing their best to protect themselves and not to pass on the infection.

She praised laboratory workers turning out 3,000 virus tests a day, calling them the “unsung heroes.”

She also credited “contact tracers,” who track down those who have had brushes with an infected person to tell them to self-isolate and watch for symptoms, as well as front-line health and social service workers, community leaders and cleaning staff who are making an all-out effort.

Hinshaw said the province is considering various options as the COVID-19 situation evolves, such as limiting gatherings to 10 people, as is happening in Saskatchewan. But she said any changes from the current 50-person limit need to be based on a tangible need and weighed against social and economic impacts.

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