VANCOUVER -- As of Thursday, 155 British Columbians were hospitalized with COVID-19, a grim new milestone as infections in the province soar and frontline health-care workers grow increasingly alarmed at the cases they anticipate handling.

The previous record for hospitalizations came on April 2, when 149 people were hospitalized. At that time, 68 were in intensive care, compared to 44 on Thursday, but one of the key health officials at St. Paul’s Hospital says medical personnel are already on tenterhooks treating the patients they currently have.

“It takes more time to care for these patients because every single time you go into and out of a room you have to don PPE and doff PPE when you leave,” said Dione Nordby, a registered nurse and critical care senior patient care manager at St. Paul’s. “The feeling of isolation is present both for the patient’s perspective and the nurses and health-care workers’ perspective. As a patient, you are in a room where the doors are closed, we use intercoms to speak to you and there is less physical presence and touching than a patient who doesn’t have COVID because of the requirements to have PPE and try to limit the exposure. It’s also isolating for health-care workers because you’re in a closed room, there’s windows so everybody can see you, but it’s not the same as with our regular patients in how we provide care all the time — those non-verbal communications.”

Each patient is attended to dozens of times a day by nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, social workers, mental health professionals and others who care for them at various stages of hospitalization.

“It is not limited to elderly people,” said Nordby. “It’s a different patient demographic (now) than we saw in March; we are seeing younger patients in the intensive care unit.”

Increasing numbers, but beds still available

B.C.’s health minister addressed the rising hospitalization numbers, but also pointed out there are empty beds available in every health authority and that none of the “surge capacity” beds health officials arranged at the start of the pandemic have been occupied.

“155 people is too many to have in hospitals because of COVID-19, we want to see those numbers reduced,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix.

CTV News Vancouver pointed out that the current hospitalizations outstrip the number from the spring when the province established a makeshift hospital in the Vancouver Convention Centre and asked how high the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients would have to be before using that location and other “alternate care centres” around the province. Dix said they don’t appear necessary at this point.

“In the spring, we prepared for scenarios based on what had happened in Wuhan (China) and what happened in Italy and that didn’t come to pass,” he said. “Even though those beds are there, we don’t expect, certainly at this time, to even consider using them. But what I would also say is we haven’t seen the beginning of cold and flu season.”

A grim mood in hospitals

Several health-care workers told CTV News they are disappointed and frustrated by people flouting provincial health orders and partying on the Granville strip or holding big family gatherings. Nordby echoed the sentiment and pointed out many of her peers are feeling exhausted and stressed.

“I think there’s definitely an emotional toll associated for caring for these people for many reasons,” she said. “For one, that constant need to be so conscious of every single action to avoid contamination, the perceived risk associated with caring for those patients on behalf of the health-care workers, but also broader with their families because (workers) are thinking about the risk and what that may look like when they have at-risk loved ones at home.”

“We also see the potential that this could overwhelm our health-care system and then it really will impact not just the COVID patients but all the patients that need medical care, and for us in particular, ICU care, which is really challenging to think about.”