“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
The number of new COVID-19 cases, 4,227, reported in Ontario today is the second highest ever recorded since the beginning of the pandemic, bringing the province’s total to 378,339 and 7,512 deaths.
The Province also reports that 1,492 people are in hospitals being treated for COVID-19, an increase of 75 from Thursday. Of those, 552 are in intensive care units (ICUs), up by 27, with 359 patients on a ventilator, an increase of 28 from the previous day.
And in a development that underscores the seriousness of the situation, Ontario Health President and CEO Matthew Anderson sent a memo to Ontario hospitals on Thursday telling them to “ramp down” all but emergency and non-essential surgeries because of the surge in COVID-19 cases.
“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,” he writes in the 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. Last week, 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.”