Every person in Alberta relies on the health system, which is why Alberta’s government is protecting it during COVID-19.
The collective sacrifices made by Albertans throughout the pandemic are significant. They are being made not just to protect ourselves, but to protect others, our livelihoods and the provincial health care system.
Hospitalization data shown below will be updated monthly.
More than 5,000 people have been hospitalized due to COVID-19.
The demands on Alberta’s health system peaked in late December and are slowly declining, but remain high.
As demand for hospital beds has risen, the health system has been able to keep pace. Alberta Health Services (AHS) increased capacity to ensure that beds are ready when Albertans needed them.
We are maintaining the health system’s high capacity right now. If Alberta experienced the same sort of rapid growth that occurred in November and December while hospitalizations remain high, the health system would be severely impacted.
This is a key reason Alberta is pursuing a measured, cautious approach to reducing public health measures.
Chart 1: Hospitalizations and ICU rates
Alberta saw an increase in ICU admissions due to COVID-19 in the fall. The result was that, in November and December, as hospitalizations rose, AHS took steps to create additional ICU capacity.
While ICU admissions are decreasing, the limited ICU capacity is another reason that Alberta is adopting a cautious approach to easing restrictions.
Chart 2: COVID and non-COVID ICU patients (Adult General System ICU)
Average hospital capacity by zone
COVID-19 has impacted different parts of the province to different degrees at different times. This is also true for specific hospitals, which have seen admissions rise at varying times during the pandemic.
The increased strain caused by high COVID-19 hospitalizations impacts every region. Alberta has a provincial health system. This means many patients from outlying areas may get taken care of in the larger cities.
High hospitalizations in any part of the province both directly and indirectly impact every Albertan seeking medical care.
Chart 3: Hospital admissions by zone
Chart 4: Weekly hospital admissions in selected hospitals
Surgical wait lists and volume
COVID-19 has impacted the volume of surgeries that can be conducted in Alberta at any given time.
Due to rising hospitalizations and the potential impact of COVID-19, Alberta has been forced to postpone non-emergency or non-urgent surgeries at multiple points.
Alberta had to delay non-urgent scheduled procedures during the first rise of cases in spring 2020. Once cases decreased, the system ramped up to catch up on surgeries. Despite best efforts, Alberta has had to scale down surgeries during the rise of cases in winter 2020. This impacts quality of life for thousands of Albertans.
Every delayed surgery means people with long-term chronic medical issues that could be helped with surgery, may have to wait even longer to get relief.
Alberta’s government is working to reduce surgical wait lists as effectively as possible.
Chart 5: Surgical volume: April to December 2020
Chart 6: Surgical volume comparison 2020 vs. 2019
COVID-19 vs. influenza
From 2016 to 2020, the highest number of hospital admissions at one time for influenza was with 205 patients in 2017-18. In contrast, peak COVID patient admissions occurred December 30, 2020, with 795 patients.
Chart 7: Average number of patients census – Influenza vs COVID-19
Alberta is actively working to limit the spread of new COVID-19 variants, which are circulating around the world.
New variant strains of COVID-19 were first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, and have since been identified in many other countries around the world. These strains are appear to spread more easily than other COVID-19 strains.
Although the variant has not taken hold in Alberta, we must be cautious. If variants spread widely, it could lead to rapid growth in new cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions.
Alberta is monitoring for these variants of concern. Case growth, including the growth of variants, is an important consideration as all decisions around easing restrictions.
See here for updates on the COVID-19 variants in Alberta.
A path forward
Alberta is bending the curve to protect our health system, but we must be careful not to lift restrictions too quickly.
A roadmap was developed to help Albertans understand how restrictions will be eased in steps over the coming months. A Path Forward outlines the sectors that will see gradual restriction changes at each step based on hospitalization benchmarks.
Once hospitalizations are within range of the benchmark, decisions to move to the next step will be considered. The lowest-risk activities in each sector will be considered for change first.
Moving between steps will happen at least 3 weeks apart to assess the impact on cases.
See here for Alberta’s 4-step path forward.