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Alberta working to find more bed space in hospitals as COVID-19 cases grow


EDMONTON — Alberta reported 67 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, with more people affected at a long-term care centre and the government working to find more bed space in hospitals.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said there are eight new cases, for a total of 13, at Calgary's McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre. An 80-year-old woman living at the facility died of the coronavirus earlier this week.

The others at the centre who have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus "are self-isolating and receiving care," Hinshaw told a news conference.

She said overall, 486 people in Alberta have tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, 21 people are being treated in hospital, with 10 currently in intensive care.

Twenty-seven of the total number have since recovered.

Two people have died.

Dr. Mark Joffe, a vice-president with Alberta Health Services, said work continues to find more bed space in anticipation of more hospitalizations as the virus spreads.

"In Alberta, we have approximately 8,500 hospital beds. We are planning for a need for 2,250 hospital beds to care for individuals with COVID-19," Joffe said Thursday.

Most of those beds are expected to come from freeing up existing bed space in the system through measures like cancelling elective surgeries, he said.

Health officials are also are looking for space in previously closed hospital wards or by adding extra beds to two-bed wards if safe-distancing can be assured.

"(We're) going through every possible location within our hospitals to see where care might be provided," Joffre said.

He added that officials are exploring the use of hotel rooms, not for acute care but more for prevention.

"We may have individuals who are diagnosed with COVID-19 who are living in a circumstance where we don't really want them to return (to their homes.) They may be exposed to too many other individuals," said Joffe.

"Hotel space might be one example, and there are many other examples that are being sought."

According to Alberta Health Services, the plan is to make more beds available in stages over the next three weeks, first by postponing elective surgeries and moving seniors out of acute care, if appropriate, then utilizing additional space like alcoves and unused operating rooms.

The target is to have 2,250 spaces open and ready for COVID-19 patients by April 15.

There have been other COVID-19 outbreaks at other long-term care facilities, and the province has ordered stricter measures to keep residents and staff safe.

Access to the centres has already been limited to one person per resident, and that person must be screened before entering.

Along with that, all nursing homes, supportive living and long-term care facilities, addiction treatment facilities and seniors' lodges must adhere to enhanced cleaning requirements, more rules around shared rooms, and mandatory health screening protocols for all staff, residents and visitors.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2020.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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