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Nursing students join battle as Alberta's COVID-19 hospitalizations reach all-time high

Alberta has set a new record for COVID-19 hospitalizations; expands care beds and adds 610 nursing students.
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Alberta Health Services President and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu speaks during a provincial COVID-19 update on Jan. 20.

Alberta has set a new record for COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

Hospitalizations in Alberta are quickly approaching an all time high with 1,131 requiring care as of Jan. 19.

Active cases in the province were reported at 67,534 with 108 people in intensive care. In the past 24 hours, eight additional deaths have been reported to Alberta Health Services. 

Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Jason Copping, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Alberta Health Services president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu were present for a COVID-19 update on Jan. 20, as the health-care system continues to feel the pressure of an Omicron-driven fifth wave. 

To expand capacity for care, the province has said they are building bed capacity in both ICU and non-ICU units, as well as opening space in pandemic response units at the Kaye Clinic in Edmonton and the South Health Campus in Calgary, which were established earlier in the pandemic. These spaces will be open as soon as Jan. 24. 

Patients being cared for in a pandemic response unit will typically be those recovering from illness who have been deemed as lower risk of transmission and have less complex care needs, Yiu said. 

As staffing continues to be an issue in health care, steps are being taken to maximize the available workforce to support patients. Team-based care models are emerging — meaning that teams of professionals with a wider skillset are working collectively to care for a larger amount of patients as opposed to individual health-care workers caring for a smaller number of patients. 

Nursing students are also being brought on to aid with shortages — Kenney and Yiu said that 610 nursing students have joined AHS and will get educational credit for their assistance. 

The province has also announced the implementation of a community response plan.

AHS has said they are working with Primary Care Networks to provide resources to those dealing with illness from home. AHS and PCN partners are reportedly planning virtual call-in lines and COVID clinics in communities which will have the ability to screen, assess and direct people with mild to moderate symptoms. 

During the announcement, Kenney said wastewater data showed declining transmission in 15 of the 19 communities participating in the analysis, suggesting it's possible the peak of cases has been reached.

He said the province has started monitoring hospitalization numbers with COVID-19 as the primary factor as well as those with the illness as an incidental factor.

According to Kenney, 45 per cent of non-ICU patients are incidental cases, meaning they were not hospitalized because of COVID, while 40 per cent of patients were admitted directly because of COVID. 

The premier further criticized the Trudeau government, specifically noting potential supply chain issues as a result of the vaccine mandate for truckers, testing travellers at airports, as well as insufficient funding for health care and the slow delivery of rapid tests.