NL health officials expect COVID-19 hospital admissions to increase in the coming weeks

Dr. Proton Rahman is the leader of the Newfoundland and Labrador Pandemic Data Analysis Group. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Health authorities in Newfoundland and Labrador expect the number of COVID-19 admissions to increase in the coming weeks, peaking last fall’s high of 16 people.

Dr. Proton Rahman, head of the province’s pandemic data analysis group, shared the province’s forecast data on Wednesday, suggesting the province could see a peak of 20 to 30 people in the hospital as the Omicron variant continues to spread.

As of Wednesday, seven people in Newfoundland and Labrador are in the hospital as a result of COVID-19. Three of them are on intensive care, according to Health Secretary John Haggie.

Rahman said the number of expected admissions comes from using data from other provinces with similar cases along with the province’s own data, suggesting admissions usually start to increase eight to 10 days after the onset of a new wave of COVID.

“Next week will be key because there are a lot of active patients, some of whom may be entering the hospital, so we’re really interested in seeing the projection going forward,” he said.

But the province’s current hospitalization rate is lower than expected, Rahman said, probably because the province has some of the highest vaccination rates in Canada. People over the age of 50, who he said have the highest risk of hospitalization, largely avoid serious illness because they are mostly fully vaccinated, he said.

Nearly 93 percent of the eligible population in Newfoundland and Labrador are considered fully vaccinated, while about 96 percent have received at least one dose – including over 70 percent of people aged five to 11 years.

The province also reported 731 new cases on Wednesday, including 229 in a backlog of tests sent out of the province for confirmation.

By region, there are 517 new cases in the Eastern Health region, 85 in the Labrador-Grenfell region, 64 in the Western Health region, 44 in the Central Health region and 21 found outside a regional test clinic.

Since Tuesday, there have been 498 recoveries – a new one-day record for the province that tops Tuesday’s 494 – leaving 6,443 known active cases.

Just over 4,300 COVID-19 tests have been completed in the past 24 hours, according to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, which raised the number of tests completed to 443,284. Rahman said national data indicates the province is among the highest in the country in per capita. population test.

Haggie also warned the public about a phone scam in which a person posing as a public health official asks for personal information in order to release COVID-19 test results. Public health no longer shares test results over the phone, and anyone who encounters a call like this should contact law enforcement, he said.

See the entire briefing here:

Although the daily number of cases is still in the hundreds a day, Rahman said it is promising that they appear to have the plateau at around 400 to 600 a day, suggesting that the wave may peak. He also said people should not focus on a single day with exponentially higher case numbers as a sign of bad things to come because fluctuations in case numbers can be expected.

Rahman said the province’s recent data allow for more realistic modeling, as earlier predictions were based on “what if scenarios”, as the province’s low case numbers in earlier stages of the pandemic made forecasts difficult.

“The numbers will be closer, but there are still limitations in terms of predictions. It’s better to overestimate‚Ķ than to underestimate and get cut off, but hopefully we do not see as many cases as we predict,” he said.

Fitzgerald said that while it can be frustrating or overwhelming for people to continue to have to deal with new cases of the virus, people have the power to protect themselves and those around them.

“When a snowstorm approaches, we adapt. We drive slower, we put on more layers to protect ourselves from the elements. We have to think about living with COVID-19 in much the same way,” she said.

“There will be times when we need to be extra careful and apply more coats.”

4th dose available for immunocompromised people

Fitzgerald said the province will change its vaccination strategy to suit new advice from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which offers immunocompromised people in the province a fourth-dose COVID-19 vaccine.

Appointments can be booked now, Fitzgerald said, as long as the vaccination is performed at least 22 weeks after a person’s third dose – the same amount of time between another dose and a booster shot.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said Wednesday that the province will offer a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine to immunocompromised people. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

The health chief added that the province intends to reconsider the amended version of alarm level 4 on Monday, which the province has been in since January 4th.

Healthcare professionals feel the strain: nurses’ union

With COVID-19 cases climbing over Newfoundland and Labrador, the leader of the province’s largest nurses’ association says the health care system is strained, with staff facing exhaustion and their own struggles with the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Yvette Coffey, president of Registered Nurses’ Union Newfoundland and Labrador, says registered nurses have a hard time taking a day off from work where some have canceled scheduled days off and no leave requests allowed.

“This is putting a lot of stress on our members and their families and loved ones,” Coffey told CBC Radio Newfoundland Tomorrow on Wednesday. “It’s just one thing after another, and our members are so frustrated at this point because they do not see an end in sight.”

Test sites across Newfoundland and Labrador have been busy as the Omicron wave rises. (Katie Breen / CBC)

Since the beginning of the new year, hundreds of healthcare professionals have been unable to work at any given time due to their own challenges with the Omicron wave.

Coffey said more than 1,200 health workers in the province are in isolation, either because they are infected or were in close contact with someone infected with COVID-19.

She said there is no easy solution to the shortage of staff, and said concerns were raised well before the pandemic. Coffey said there are 500 vacancies for nursing positions in the province and about 900 nurses are eligible to retire within the next year or so.

If hospital admissions rise as Rahman expects, Haggie said, the province is ready to respond.

“The beds are there. By my calculation, there are about 300 empty beds across the regional health authorities … At the moment, we think we’re on the right side of this, but it’s obviously something we monitor on an ongoing basis.” he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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