Coronavirus: Ontario hospital staff bracing for COVID-19 surge due to holiday rule-breakers

Coronavirus case numbers coming out of the holiday season are raising alarm bells and health officials warn the worst is yet to come.

“It’s a dangerous trend if we keep seeing hospitalizations rise. It’s a dangerous trend if we keep seeing intensive care occupancy rise. That’s why we called so strongly for the lockdown before Christmas,” said the Ontario Hospital Association’s CEO and President, Anthony Dale.

Hospitals across the province are seeing a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and one factor that’s likely to blame is those breaking the pandemic rules over the holidays.

“Sixty per cent of those who tested positive were involved in some sort of holiday gathering,” said Dr. Michael Warner, director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital.

Read more: Majority of Canadians in favour of holiday lockdown to help fight coronavirus surge: poll

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And officials expect numbers to get worse once celebrations from New Year’s Eve are factored in.

Monday’s numbers show that compared to two weeks ago on Dec. 21, 275 more people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in Ontario with an additional 68 patients in the ICU and an increase of 43 of them on ventilators.

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“Ontario is facing some punishing demands,” said Dale.

“Even at a mid-range scenario, say 500 to 600 people in intensive care, it’s still hugely disruptive. There’s not a chance the system can operate in a normal way under those circumstances.”

According to front-line workers, the health care system is already under an enormous amount of strain.

“Most acute care beds are occupied through most of the day so you’re seeing patients in areas that may not be optimal for their care at normal times,” said Dr. Steve Flindall, who is an emergency room physician in the GTA.

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At hospitals in the hot spots, officials described care being provided in more unconventional spaces, such as hallways. The increase in the number of COVID-19 patients is impacting healthcare in numerous ways.

Patients are being transported between hospitals when ICUs reach their capacity and this is leading to procedures for non-COVID-19-related patients being put on hold.

“In a worst-case scenario, my fear is that we see a sustained organized shutdown of those elective activities similar to what we did in wave one. We know that came at a huge cost, 150,000 cancelled procedures,” said Dale, who is urging people to take the situation seriously.

Read more: Ontario government defends rollout of COVID-19 vaccines amid criticism

“No one in this province should think that Ontario is somehow different from the United Kingdom, parts of the United States, and Europe where the system grows into an unprecedented crisis because of an out of control pandemic. We’re on the road to it if we’re not careful.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Dr. Flindall.

“Please listen, our hospitals aren’t as crippled as those down south… but it’s going to start happening here if people don’t take it seriously,” he said.

Health officials said Ontario will have a better idea in a few weeks of how exactly the holiday season has impacted COVID-19 numbers. They said hospitals are already bracing for what is expected to be a surge in cases.

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“My fear is that January ends up being even more brutal than we anticipated,” said Dale.

“It’s going to be a bad January.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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