Being a small East Coast province in the pandemic is a double-edged sword: there are fewer critically ill patients, but the supply of hospital beds is limited if the worst-case scenario materializes.

“We will have fewer beds, but we will have a lower population density too,” said Dr. Ward Patrick, the head of critical care at the Nova Scotia Health Authority — the biggest health agency in Atlantic Canada.

The 60-year-old veteran of intensive care medicine said in an interview his teams have access to an existing supply of 120 intensive care beds province-wide — each equipped with ventilators and staffed by specialized health workers.

In addition, the province’s intensive care units have been emptied by 50 per cent to prepare for COVID-19 patients, and Patrick says Nova Scotia could surge to over 200 intensive care beds as the pandemic progresses.

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However, he also acknowledged there are “wild cards,” ranging from unanticipated jumps in infections to finding replacements for sick staff.

His health authority has created scenarios where 7,000 of its 23,400 staff are off due to self-isolation or illness, and Patrick said he’s aware of estimates that could go higher.

1:47Coronavirus outbreak: Testing capacity in Nova Scotia now beyond 1,000 per day

Coronavirus outbreak: Testing capacity in Nova Scotia now beyond 1,000 per day

Janet Hazelton,