Shutdown needed to keep ICU beds from being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, says Premier while giving ‘honest assessment’

According to new COVID-19 modelling for Ontario, the occupancy of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds in hospitals across the province by patients infected with the virus is expected to exceed 300 within the next 10 days, under any scenario.

The Simcoe/Muskoka region is moving into shutdown mode for 28 days starting 12:01 a.m. Boxing Day, along with the rest of Southern Ontario.
Premier Doug Ford announced the measures today (Friday), saying they are necessary to halt the rapid growth of COVID-19 cases. Northern Ontario will move into lockdown for 14 days.
“I want to start by giving you an honest assessment of where we stand today in Ontario. We saw this morning’s modelling, that our COVID-19 numbers continue to (grow) at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, despite the restrictions we have seen growing numbers of people travelling between regions within Ontario,” said Ford.
“COVID is spreading rapidly from high-outbreak areas to areas with fewer cases. As it does, our hospitals are filling up more each day. We have seen a 70 per cent increase in hospitalizations and 80 per cent increase in ICU admissions in the past few weeks.”
According to new COVID-19 modelling for Ontario, the occupancy of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds in hospitals across the province by patients infected with the virus is expected to exceed 300 within the next 10 days, under any scenario. Under the worse-case scenario, that number could exceed 1,500 by the middle of January.
The modelling also shows that by Jan. 24, the province could be seeing 6,000 new infections daily with a three per cent growth rate, almost 14,000 with a five per cent rate, and about 30,000 a day with a seven per cent rate.
Just two weeks ago modelling suggested Ontario was heading towards 5,000 cases of COVID-19 a day by Jan. 8. However, the transmission rate has slowed with the province seeing just over one per cent growth per day. The new modelling also says that under the most likely scenario, there will be 50 new deaths a day in February.
Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds are, at any given time, mostly filled with people who have been in accidents, or are suffering from heart attacks or other emergencies.
“My friends, above all we need to preserve capacity in our ICUs and hospitals. But, because of increased cases of COVID-19 filling up our hospitals, we are on the verge of cancelling more elective surgeries and we already have thousands and thousands of backlogged surgeries,” said Ford. “We have seen in other jurisdictions what out-of-control caseloads and deaths look like. And I am also extremely alarmed by reports of a new strain of COVID-19 that is much more contagious than what we have seen and have been facing so far.”
A strain that spreads faster has been identified in the United Kingdom leading many countries, including Canada, to ban travel from that country. The federal government needs to ensure the country’s borders are secure to prevent new cases from spreading in Ontario and Canada, said Ford. He challenged the federal government to act, saying that 63,000 people each week are arriving “unchecked” from Pearson International Airport alone.
He suggested that “if they don’t do it, we will do it ourselves if needed.”
Vaccines, he continued, represent a light at the end of the tunnel, but it will be months before they begin to make an impact and continued vigilance is necessary.
“This difficult action is without a doubt necessary to save lives and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks. Make no mistake, thousands of lives are at stake now. If we fail to take action, the consequences could be catastrophic”.
Schools, he said, are not part of the COVID-19 problem in communities, but additional restrictions are coming “out of an abundance of caution,” including: School closures over the winter break will be extended, with students from Kindergarten to Grade 8 resuming in-class instruction on Jan 11, and high school students learning remotely from Jan. 11 to Jan. 25, when secondary schools will open.
Ford also said a new program to support small businesses is coming, named the Ontario Small Business Support Grant. It will provide a minimum of $10,000 to eligible businesses, and up to $20,000 to help owners get though the lockdown.
The OHA has called for the Province to enact a four-week lockdown in every health unit with an infection rate of 40/100,000 population or higher, the Control-Red zones which include the Simcoe/Muskoka region.
“Ontario remains firmly caught in the grasp of a major second wave of COVID-19. Daily infection is now above 2,000 new cases per day. Hospitalization is increasing rapidly, as is the occupancy of intensive care units. A growing number of hospitals are grappling with outbreaks, and many have already had to cancel scheduled surgeries and other activity,” the association says in its release.
The province’s healthcare professionals are carrying a heavy burden, it continues, and they are mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted, but continue to carry on. 
“The situation is extremely serious. We are now in the holiday season and if members of the public choose to ignore public health measures and gather outside their households, the consequences risk overwhelming Ontario’s hospitals. Every healthcare system has its breaking point.”
Current numbers show 265 people are in ICUs being treated for COVID-19. Another 2,123 cases were reported in Ontario today, along with 17 new deaths. The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit reported a total of 3,075 cases, 188 since the last update. The unit updates daily, Monday through Friday. Of the total 2,412 have recovered, and there have been 59 deaths.
“Tough times don’t last but tough people do … (I’m) asking everyone to stay strong just a little bit longer,” said Ford.