Quebec bracing for ‘tsunami’ of COVID-19 patients overwhelming hospitals

 

Quebec’s already fragile hospital network is bracing for a “tsunami” of new COVID-19 patients that could overwhelm it within the next two weeks, provincial health authorities warned on Thursday.

During a news conference, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said the province’s latest projections show at least 3,000 people could be hospitalized with the disease by mid-January, surpassing the network’s current capacity.

With 20,000 healthcare workers absent due to COVID-19 and new infections now hovering around 15,000 per day , Dubé warned Quebec is facing the “worst combination” possible: more people in need of care, and fewer people available to treat them.

“The situation at the moment is very, very, very difficult,” Dubé said.

Hospitals across the province are already reducing services and postponing surgeries in an effort to free up beds and staff for COVID-19 patients, with certain regions cutting back more than others.

On Thursday, assistant deputy health minister Dr. Lucie Opatrny said that even if Quebec reaches its highest level of délestage, or purposely ramping down elective surgeries and other clinical activities, it still may not be enough to meet the influx of patients expected.

“We’re in a really critical phase,” Opatrny said. “We’re not talking about only elective surgeries; we’re talking about surgeries that should be operated within a several months spectrum.”

Dubé said the government is discussing with unions to try to find ways of increasing the number of health workers available, with the goal being to increase the province’s hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients to 2,500 beds.

Projections released by the Institut national d’excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS) on Thursday warned Quebec could see more than 3,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19 within two weeks, including more than 400 in intensive care.

On Thursday, Quebec recorded an additional 203 hospitalizations, the largest single day increase since the beginning of the pandemic. In all, there are now 1,953 people in hospital with the disease in the province, including 207 in intensive care.

Dubé said about 40 per cent of new hospitalizations are people who were admitted to the hospital for something else but tested positive upon arrival. However, he said, given the extra burden caring for an infected patient entails, those cases are still adding pressure on the network.

“Even if they came in for something else, they need to be treated differently,” Dubé said. “It complicates the task and it remains very difficult to treat everyone, regardless of why they were admitted.”

Meanwhile, in hopes of convincing holdouts to get vaccinated, Dubé announced Quebec will begin requiring proof of vaccination in government-run liquor and cannabis stores as of Jan. 18.

Dubé said he believes the measure is necessary as more than half the people in intensive care with COVID-19 at the moment are unvaccinated. He hopes extending the vaccine passport to SAQs and SQDCs will help limit the contacts unvaccinated people have and “protect them from themselves.”

“If unvaccinated people are unhappy about it,” Dubé added, “there’s a very simple solution: getting vaccinated.”

 Quebec’s Health Minister Christian Dubé, speaks to the media at the COVID-19 press briefing Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 in Montreal.

© Ryan Remiorz Quebec’s Health Minister Christian Dubé, speaks to the media at the COVID-19 press briefing Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 in Montreal.

The minister also announced the province intends to soon extend the vaccine passport to more non-essential businesses in hopes of achieving the same goal. The government had been questioned in recent weeks as to why it hasn’t added more restrictions for the unvaccinated after implementing measures that effect the entire population, including a province-wide curfew .

In terms of cases, Quebec reported 15,874 new infections on Thursday and an additional 26 deaths. The number of infections in the province is believed to be underestimated, however, as Quebec has had to limit who can access PCR tests.

Speaking to Radio-Canada on Thursday , Opatrny said the province only has the capacity to perform 30,000 PCR tests per day. The reduction is in part due to worldwide shortages, she said, and Quebec’s machines regularly breaking down from overuse.

In hopes of getting a better understanding of the situation, Dubé announced Quebec will soon launch an online platform allowing people to declare positive results from at-home rapid tests.https://www.youtube.com/embed/hFwPOfgI33M?autoplay=0&showinfo=1&wmode=opaque&modestbranding=1&enablejsapi=1&fs=1&rel=0&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.msn.com&widgetid=1Video player from: YouTube (Privacy PolicyTerms)

The province also announced Thursday Quebecers will eventually need to have three doses for their vaccine passport to be considered valid, but said it wouldn’t make the change until all adults had a chance to get one.

Quebec has called in the Canadian Armed Forces to help ramp up vaccination in the province and on Thursday announced it is speeding up the third dose campaign. People 45 and older are now eligible to book appointments as of Friday and all adults will be able to do so by Jan. 17, four days earlier than previously scheduled.

Asked whether he feels all the changes in recent weeks risk causing confusion, Dubé said the province has needed to be flexible given what it’s facing.

He believes Quebecers understand that, he added.

“I agree it’s been a long, sinuous road,” Dubé answered. “But we need to adjust to this Omicron (variant). … We need to adjust to the severity of this tsunami.”

jfeith@postmedia.com

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