Public health modelling predicts cases of COVID-19 could peak in Alberta in early May, Premier Jason Kenney said in an emergency debate in the legislature Wednesday night.
The model predicts at the provincial peak, about 250 people will be in intensive care unit beds with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The calculations, prepared by Alberta Health Services (AHS) and still being adjusted, are also prompting the provincial government to prepare for a much more dire, worst-case scenario. That scenario would require 1,200 intensive care beds and 925 ventilators, which Alberta Health Services aims to have ready by late April, Kenney said.
“Things will get worse before they get better,” the premier said. “I also want everyone to know that Alberta’s pandemic response is second-to-none in North America.”
He said the provincial health system has the resources, equipment and personnel it needs to cope with the peak of infections of the novel coronavirus.
Delayed surgeries and other measures have allowed AHS to free up 1,300 hospital beds across the province, and there should be 2,250 available to treat COVID-19 patients by the third week of April, Kenney said. There were 509 ventilators available at last count, he said.
Planning for worst-case scenario
Although the premier said he was confident the public health measures to close businesses, prohibit large gatherings and keep people apart were succeeding at slowing the spread of the virus, the government is preparing for a more catastrophic scenario.
It has plans to assemble “backup facilities” should the number of sick patients exceed hospital space and possibly call on the military to help prepare such buildings, Kenney said.
Although AHS has a four-month supply of gloves, masks, gowns and other medical equipment, the province has ordered an additional two million N95 masks, Kenney said.
Alberta is also working with other provinces and the federal government to try and find sources of extra testing reagents and other critical supplies, he said.
Opposition Leader Rachel Notley expressed several concerns to the premier and cabinet ministers, including that the emergency homeless shelters being set up in the province appear to have mats and beds in close proximity, which risks facilitating transmission of the virus.
“We believe these people, these people in Alberta who do not have homes, are entitled to the same dignity and the same rights as other Albertans,” Notley said. “And we also believe that the kind of setup that we see these folks living in right now is bound to create a concentration of infections and disease spread.”
Notley said the provincial government will have to accelerate economic diversification when the pandemic subsides. She chastised the government for a prolonged battle with Alberta doctors over how physicians are paid.
Notley also questioned how governments intended to help small businesses survive the economic crash and how seniors’ lodges and long-term care homes are preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
Kenney said the government is in talks with e-commerce platform Shopify to potentially help some Alberta businesses move online. He also said the provincial government would consider topping up a federal government emergency income payment of $2,000 a month.
Oil price crash lobs $7-billion hit to provincial coffers
Kenney also said the Canadian oil industry likely needs access to between $20- and $30-billion worth of cash to survive the global oil price war. He urged the federal government to come to the aid of the sector.
Within two to three weeks, the price of Western Canadian Select — the type of oil extracted from the oilsands — may be negative, Kenney said.
Without help, small and medium-sized energy companies are at risk of folding if oil prices remain in the gutter, he said.
Kenney also said Alberta’s projected revenue for the 2020-21 year is likely between $7 billion and $10 billion lower than budgeted. The province had forecast $50 billion in revenue for this year.
However, Kenney said he expects an “extraordinary federal investment” in orphan well reclamation within days.