Alberta asks federal government, Red Cross for field hospitals as COVID-19 spreads

As COVID-19 cases soar in Alberta and hospital capacity is stretched, the province has reached out to the federal government and the Canadian Red Cross for help, CBC News has learned.

A federal source with direct knowledge of the situation says Alberta has asked the federal government and the Red Cross to supply field hospitals to help offset the strain COVID-19 is having on the health-care system.

The source said Alberta would likely receive at least four field hospitals — two from the Red Cross and another two from the federal government. The source, speaking on condition of confidentiality, said there was no request for human resources to staff the hospitals and no request for support from the military. 

The source said a formal request has still not been sent by the province, but officials have been discussing in detail the level of support Alberta could receive. 

A health-care official walks down the halls of a pandemic response unit at Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary on Nov. 14, 2020. The temporary structure was set up early in the pandemic to deal with a potential flood of cases. (Submitted by AHS/Leah Hennel)

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu is scheduled to speak with Alberta Health Minster Tyler Shandro on Wednesday to discuss the requests and what other supports Ottawa can offer the province during the pandemic. 

A provincial government official confirmed to CBC News that a request had been made for field hospital help, but said the request represented contingency planning only at this point.

The official said Alberta Health Services is gathering resources and materials it may need, but there is no plan yet to staff or construct the hospitals.

An official from Public Safety Canada said they have not received any requests for field hospitals from any other provinces or territories.

Alberta continues to set new daily COVID-19 infection records and leads the country in the number of active cases per capita. It has also sometimes led the country in total active cases. For example, on Tuesday, there were 16,628 active cases in Alberta, compared to 14,524 in Ontario — a province with more than three times as many people.

On Tuesday, the province reported 1,307 new cases and a test positivity rate of 8.4 per cent. Alberta has reported more than 1,000 cases each day for nearly two weeks. 

There were 479 people in hospital and 97 in ICUs on Tuesday, but the province will update those numbers on Wednesday afternoon at a news conference to be attended by both Premier Jason Kenney and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

  • CBC News will carry that news conference live here at 3:30 p.m. MT/5:30 p.m. ET.

The last time Kenney appeared at a COVID-19 update was on Nov. 24 when he introduced new restrictions on social gatherings, among other measures, in an attempt to stem the rising tide of cases while continuing to focus on the province’s economic health. 

He said those restrictions would be revisited on Dec. 15 and stricter measures could be imposed if cases continue to rise. 

Critics have called those measures insufficient

Since then, doctors have warned of overburdened hospitals and ICUs and the province has taken the step of double-bunking some patients in ICU rooms as part of its plans to deal with a surge

On Nov. 27, Alberta Health Services sent a memo to staff asking them to conserve oxygen supplies as demand increases.

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