By Gordon Lambie
Quebec does not have the hospital staff available to face “an avalanche of new hospitalizations” expected in the coming weeks according to Health Minister Christian Dubé.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday morning, Dubé said that the province saw more than 400 new admissions to hospitals for Covid-positive people in Wednesday’s data, the highest single-day number so far, but he cautioned that forecasts indicate that the total number of hospitalizations could surpass 3,000 by mid-January, with over 400 in intensive care.
“The situation is very difficult,” he said, adding that even with additional cuts to services and new incentive programs, capacity can only currently be stretched to 2,500.
“The best estimate I can give is that we have 20,000 healthcare workers absent at the moment because of Covid,” the health minister continued, explaining that this is on top of some 50,000 already out of the system due to stress or other reasons.
Dr. Lucie Opaterny, Assistant Deputy Minister of Health and Social services, said that when the number of intensive care beds being used by Covid patients reaches 400, that will be half of the total ICU capacity in the province.
“We’re in a really critical phase for the next few weeks,” Opaterny said, explaining that several regions, including the Eastern Townships, are on the verge of implementing the fourth and highest level of service cuts in the name of trying to free up beds and reorient workers to high priority services. She added, however, that, “you can’t keep up a level four for a very long period of time without having some side effects from that,” and pointed out that even if all regions switch to level four, the system will still not have the capacity needed to serve the forecast need. That in mind, she and Dubé both said that conversations are underway now to find ways to reopen beds and increase staff, although neither provided details about how that will be done.
The health minister also announced the beginning of a series of new restrictions aimed specifically at people who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, fully blaming this section of the population for the crisis in the hospital network.
“If those unvaccinated (people) had been vaccinated, we wouldn’t be talking about level three and level four (service cuts) right now,” Dubé said, arguing that the government needs to “protect (the unvaccinated) from themselves” because they account for more than half of all of the people in intensive care.
The first of these measures, which will come into effect on Jan 18, is the requirement to show the vaccine passport at SAQ and SQDC outlets. After being questioned by several different media outlets about the effectiveness of this limitation as a deterrent, the Health Minister clarified that these two businesses were chosen first because of their status as Crown Corporations, but he promised that they would not be the last.
“If you don’t get vaccinated, stay home,” Dubé said.
Thursday’s announcement also brought the news that the vaccine passport program will be expanded to a third dose, although not until later in the year. As only those 50 years and older, as well as those in certain targeted groups, have so far been given access to the booster, Dubé was clear that the program will not be modified until everyone has had access to the shots.
Although not a part of the health minister’s announcement, the province also moved up the schedule for third doses on Thursday. As of Friday, Jan. 7, anyone 45 years of age or older will be eligible, with a new age group following every two days until everyone 18 and up is eligible as of Jan. 17.
Quebec reported 15,874 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total number of people infected to 696,182. There were 26 new deaths recorded, for a total of 11,846.
Overall hospitalizations increased to 1,953, with 207 people in intensive care.
The INSPQ reported 4,797 active cases in the Eastern Townships on Thursday, alongside 113 hospitalizations and another five deaths.
The CIUSSS de l’Estrie – CHUS announced that a COVID-19 relief ward has been opened at the Granby Hospital to take some pressure off of the dedicated sectors at the two main centres in Sherbrooke. In the medium term, the hospitals in Cowansville, Magog, and Lac-Mégantic are expected to follow suit.
The regional public health department has an update on the local situation planned for Friday afternoon.