VANCOUVER -- The record number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has prompted the provincial government to postpone 1,750 non-emergency surgeries in Lower Mainland hospitals as staff are re-tasked to care for patients in “surge capacity” beds.

This comes as the Ministry of Health and Vancouver Coastal Health repeatedly deny CTV News requests for information on the number of surgeries already postponed or cancelled. Fraser Health’s president was more forthcoming, estimating that health authority has postponed 50 to 70 non-emergency surgeries thus far.

Starting next week, nine hospitals in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley will reassign staff typically tasked with performing surgeries to caring for COVID-19 patients, whose beds may be placed in any spare hospital space available. According to frontline workers, that could be anywhere from hallways to even shower rooms.

There are now 501 British Columbians hospitalized with COVID-19, 161 of them requiring critical care.

Abbotsford Regional, Burnaby General, Surrey Memorial, Royal Columbian, Lions Gate, Richmond, St. Paul’s, UBC and Vancouver General hospitals will only be performing urgent, emergency surgeries for the next two weeks. Health officials will be reassessing whether to extend surgery postponements on a weekly basis.

“For those patients that have already been called, or will be called to postpone their surgery, and for patients whose surgery we aren't able to book at this time, I make the same assurance we made to patients last March: you will not be forgotten,” insisted Health Minister Adrian Dix. “You are part of our surgical renewal commitment, and as soon as we are able to do so we will call you again and rebook your surgery.”

At a press conference on Thursday, he also insisted that anyone needing urgent medical care should not avoid going to a hospital or seeing a doctor, and that help will be available.

Dix also pointed out this was always on the table; B.C. has now reached the “worst case scenario” outlined in the fall and patients have been transferred from busy COVID hospitals to less busy hospitals in the region for weeks.

“We said that when we launched the surgical renewal that future waves of COVID-19 could impact surgeries,” said Dix. “We also said that we would learn and adapt as we face new each new wave of COVID-19, and that we would manage any reduction services differently than we did last March and we're doing just that.

Dix also revealed that all medical staff who have been working in community settings but have training in critical care are being asked to return to hospital work on a volunteer basis.