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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney updates media on measures taken to help with COVID-19, in Edmonton on March 20, 2020.

JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Health officials in Alberta say COVID-19 infections in the province are expected to peak in the middle of next month, with between 400 and 3,100 people potentially dying of the disease if physical distancing measures are successful.

Modelling data released on Wednesday predict that Alberta’s health-care system has an adequate supply of intensive care beds and ventilators to manage the surge, but warn the province could run out of personal protective equipment in a little more than two months unless it can successfully order more.

Alberta is the latest province to release modelling data to explain how the pandemic could unfold, when it could have its greatest impact on the health-care system and, in some cases, how many people could die.

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The federal government has said national data are coming, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been vague about the timing. On Wednesday, he would only say the government would have more information to offer in the coming days.

Officials in Alberta are forecasting 400 to 6,600 deaths from COVID-19. They also say 800,000 to 1 million people will be infected. Premier Jason Kenney says people need to know what's coming. The Canadian Press

Like other data from provinces, the material released by Alberta includes wide ranges and numerous caveats that underscore the difficulty in making accurate projections about how the pandemic could evolve.

Deena Hinshaw, the province’s Chief Medical Officer, said it’s difficult to project the number of fatalities because that depends on not only how many people get sick, but also how many of them are older or whose health is more vulnerable.

“This is an early model and there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Dr. Hinshaw said.

“It all depends on us, so it depends on how successful we are in preventing spread, particularly how successful we are at protecting those most vulnerable to severe outcomes.”

The province released figures for three scenarios: the likeliest, or probable; an elevated scenario if physical distancing isn’t as successful; and an extreme scenario if there were no public-health measures in place, such as banning public gatherings and shutting down or restricting many businesses.

projected ventilator and

icu capacity in alberta

The number ​of ventilators and ICU beds that

Alberta expects to have as it ramps up supply

ahead of an expected peak in COVID-19 cases

1,081

Scenarios

of patients

needing

critical care

ICU beds

Ventilators

761

Elevated:

projected

early May,

peak of 392

576

570

426

372

325

314

158

158

Probable:

projected

May-June,

peak of

232

April 3

April 8

April 15

April 22

April 29

Note: Assumes 195 of existing 295 ICU with ventilators are

available to non-COVID cases

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: government of alberta

projected ventilator and

icu capacity in alberta

The number ​of ventilators and ICU beds that Alberta expects to have as it ramps up supply ahead of an expected peak in COVID-19 cases

1,081

Scenarios

of patients

needing

critical care

ICU beds

Ventilators

761

Elevated:

projected

early May,

peak of 392

576

570

426

372

325

314

158

158

Probable:

projected

May-June,

peak of

232

April 3

April 8

April 15

April 22

April 29

Note: Assumes 195 of existing 295 ICU with ventilators are

available to non-COVID cases

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: government of alberta

projected ventilator and icu capacity in alberta

The number ​of ventilators and ICU beds that Alberta expects to have as it ramps up supply ahead of an expected peak in COVID-19 cases

1,081

Scenarios

of patients

needing

critical care

ICU beds

Ventilators

761

Elevated:

projected

early May,

peak of 392

576

570

426

372

325

314

158

158

Probable:

projected

May-June,

peak of 232

April 3

April 8

April 15

April 22

April 29

Note: Assumes 195 of existing 295 ICU with ventilators are available to non-COVID cases

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: government of alberta

Under the probable scenario, the province says infections could peak in mid-May, with about 800,000 people becoming infected and between 400 and 3,100 people dying by the end of the summer.

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In the elevated scenario, in which people with COVID-19 each infect a greater number of people, the peak could happen in early May and the number of infections could increase to just more than one million, with 500 to 6,600 deaths.

The extreme scenario, which is designed to show what would have happened without any public health measures, shows 1.6 million people could have been infected, with 16,000 to 32,000 deaths.

Those numbers put the potential fatality rate at less than 1 per cent of all cases. Dr. Hinshaw said that rate is lower than widely reported estimates because the province’s model looks at all cases in the population, many of which will never be serious enough to be confirmed and tested.

“What we’re seeing in terms of the reported numbers, that is not all infections in the population," she said. “When you’re looking at those reported numbers, you’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. ... If you’re counting, as the models do, the total number of infections, the percentage that have a severe outcome or die will be much smaller.”

Alberta, which had its first case of COVID-19 about a month ago, reported 1,423 cases as of Wednesday and 29 deaths. Almost half of those fatalities are linked to a single long-term care home in Calgary.

Quebec released its modelling data on Tuesday, projecting a peak in hospitalizations around April 18, with at least 1,263 people dying by the end of this month. The province did not include a longer-term projection, saying anything beyond a one-month time frame is guesswork.

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Ontario’s modelling projected 3,000 to 15,000 fatalities over the next two years. B.C. did not include a number of potential deaths, focusing instead on capacity within the health-care system. That data projected that the province has enough beds and ventilators to cope with a surge in COVID-19 infections, including a peak of 271 people who could require ventilation.

Alberta health officials project the province could have 230 people requiring critical care at the peak of the outbreak under the probable scenario and about 400 in the elevated scenario.

The province expects to rapidly increase its supply of ICU beds and ventilators over the coming weeks, with 1,081 ICU beds and 761 ventilators available by the end of this month.

The modelling projects that the province will have enough personal protective equipment by the end of this month, with several weeks of supply available. But that could become constrained by the end of June, leaving the province short of single-use face shields and N95 respirator masks even in the more optimistic probable scenario.

The provincial government, like others across Canada, is scrambling to order more gear and head off that shortfall.

With a report from Marieke Walsh in Ottawa

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