As single-day new COVID-19 cases remain near second highs, Ontario hospitals begin to ramp down non-essential surgeries

“Given increasing case counts and widespread community transmission across many parts of the province, we are facing mounting and extreme pressure on our critical care capacity. We are instructing hospitals to ramp down all elective surgeries and non-emergent/urgent activities in order to preserve critical care and human resource capacity.” – Ontario Health President and CEO Matthew Anderson


Ontario recorded another 4,401 COVID-19 cases today, slightly lower than the 4,456 reported Sunday, the highest daily increase since the beginning of the pandemic, bringing the province’s total to 391,009 and 7,567 deaths.
The Province also reports that 1,646 people are in hospitals being treated for COVID-19. Of those, 619 are in intensive care units (ICUs), with 408 patients on a ventilator, an increase of 28 from the previous day.
And in a development that underscores the seriousness of the situation, following a memo from Ontario Health President and CEO Matthew Anderson to Ontario hospitals telling them to “ramp down” all but emergency and essential surgeries because of the surge in COVID-19 cases, hospital have begun to do just that. The move is expected to open about 1,000 IUC beds, says Christine Elliot, minister of health.
“Given increasing case counts and widespread community transmission across many parts of the province, we are facing mounting and extreme pressure on our critical care capacity,” Anderson wrote in last Thursday’s memo obtained by The Scene. “We are instructing hospitals to ramp down all elective surgeries and non-emergent/urgent activities in order to preserve critical care and human resource capacity.”
Keeping pressure off Ontario’s hospitals has been the focus of masking-and-distancing measures since the start of the pandemic. Those measures include four closures of varying degrees, including the current stay-at-home order. Recently, Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the Ontario COVID-19 science table, said the virus, and new strains such as the B.1.1.7 strain first identified in the United Kingdom, has gained the upper hand.
“With the new variants which are both more contagious and more dangerous, we are seeing situations where whole families end up in intensive care, all at the same time. This gets much more challenging because of the pressure that is already hitting our intensive care units. Even as people are fighting for their lives, we have to separate families. Ambulances and helicopters are moving them to other regions that have a spare bed,” said Brown.
Last December the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) issued a statement calling for immediate action on rising COVID-19 numbers, saying hospitals were “working diligently to catch up on approximately 150,000 scheduled surgeries cancelled in the first wave of the pandemic.” 
In the memo, Anderson says the “ramp down instruction” does not apply to Northern Ontario or pediatric specialty hospitals. “Additionally, for some hospitals in low COVID-19 areas, very limited ambulatory services may continue, recognizing that immediate ramp down may be required,” he continues.
The memo also advises that “going forward” a request might be made for workers/teams to support care in other parts of the system. “We will be asking you (hospital CEOs) to identify available staff who might be redeployed to sites requiring support and for receiving sites to help integrate these staff members into their teams.” 
Anderson continues that Ontarians depend on healthcare workers to continue their important work.
“We know that patients continue to need essential primary care services, including cancer screening and immunizations, in addition to your COVID-19 response efforts … thank you for continuing to meet the primary care needs of your patients. These are very difficult and challenging times for all Ontarians, and we understand that deferring scheduled care will have an impact on patients and their families and caregivers.”

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