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Coronavirus: Still ‘not a lot of people’ in Hamilton pediatric hospital amid pandemic

A pediatric doctor at McMaster children's hospital says PPE and screenings are not something that's going to change when entering the facility going forward.
A pediatric doctor at McMaster children's hospital says PPE and screenings are not something that's going to change when entering the facility going forward. Lisa Polewski / Global News

Scheduled care at a number of Hamilton, Ont. hospitals has returned to some normalcy since Ontario’s move into Stage 2 of its coronavirus recovery plan in late May.

However, despite allowing visitors into facilities once again, the mother of a chemotherapy patient that makes regular visits to McMaster Children’s Hospital says there’s still not many making the trip as the pandemic continues.

“Still a limited number of people on the elevators, when you get into clinics, you know, no toys, breastfeeding is spaced apart. So, yeah, I didn’t see a big change, to be honest,” said Karolina Anastasopoulos.

Read more: Burlington politicians unanimously support mask bylaw

A switch by local hospitals in March to mitigate a potential surge in COVID-19 cases by putting non-essential procedures on hold and eliminating visitors changed the experience for 6-year-old Niko Anastasopoulos, who has leukemia.

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Anastasopoulos receives chemotherapy through a vein port at McMaster every month, and his mother was one of the few allowed to accompany a patient into the hospital during the height of the pandemic.

“Very sparse,” said Niko’s mother Karolina. “Even in the hallways, like it was only people who absolutely needed to be there. So, yeah, it was a different scene for sure.”

Karolina Anastasopoulos (with son Niko) says waiting rooms at McMaster Children’s hospital have few people and no more toys insight for kids to play with.
Karolina Anastasopoulos (with son Niko) says waiting rooms at McMaster Children’s hospital have few people and no more toys insight for kids to play with. Karolina Anastasopoulos

There was a time before the coronavirus that the pediatrics ward was busy with an abundance of toys and friends around for Niko to play with, according to Anastasopoulos.

But since the pandemic, she’s seen little of that and more distancing and sanitizing that were not a part of regular visits prior to March.

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“There used to be a bunch of toys. There’s a big playroom set up, right, so all those toys were taken away,” Anastasopoulos said.

“All the seating and tables were spaced out. So when you would come in, you would find an empty table to sit at.”

Anastasopoulos says toys are available but had to be requested. When they did arrive, they were brought out by staff in PPE and sanitized before and after use.

Read more: Ontario reports 170 new coronavirus cases, 86 from Windsor-Essex; total cases at 36,348

She admits there was a bit of fear having to take a child considered immunocompromised into a health facility with still little known about the coronavirus.

“I was pretty nervous about going to our first appointment. I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Anastasopoulos during a visit in March.

At the time, Hamilton hospitals required patients and approved visitors to undergo pre-screenings and to wear masks before entering the hospital.

Once finishing the screening and venturing to the pediatrics floor, Anastasopoulos said there were “not a lot of people.”

Read more: Testing delays cause some Hamilton residents to return for repeat COVID-19 assessments

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“From our perspective, it just seemed like a much more efficient and safe, safe way to do things, to be honest.”

Bruce Squires, President of McMaster Children’s Hospital, believes fear has been a factor for some parents in their hesitation to bring kids into the hospital, assuming it was the place where all the sick people are.

“I think we had some concerns about that being a general impression and about some folks being a little reluctant,” Squires told Global News.

Admittedly he says things certainly have changed in the hospital post-pandemic but believes the facility is a “very safe place” to be.

“They’re different because we’re ensuring safety and optimal care. But you’re going to get really the attention and the excellence that you require,” Squires said.

Dr. Angelo Mikrogianakis, chief of pediatrics at McMaster Children’s Hospital, said a number of child care services were able to be moved to virtual platforms in March — including physiotherapy, mental health and general counselling.

“We still had to deliver emergency care during the pandemic, oncology patients and patients with cancer, but there was a pivot to virtual care,” said Mikrogianakis.

“A bit of a learning curve in terms of understanding how that might work and how it works with families. But we wanted to be present and not be cut off from our patients and families.”

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Squires says the advance in virtual care is the reason some non-surgical visits have declined in the hospital and reduced capacity by about 40 per cent.

“We are finding that we’re able to continue a fair number of those services virtually,” Squires said. “So your physician, if they think they can meet your needs and service you virtually, then they’ll still try and do that.”

However, he says there is still some capacity for the hospital to grow with in-person visits and he expects that to increase further in the “next couple of weeks.”

One benefit to all the limited visits and social distancing in the community, according to Mikrogianakis, is an apparent decline in the number of general infections he sees in children during March and April.

“Mainly infectious types of things from other viruses that are common in the community, that give kids fevers, make them sick and make them vomit, the protective things we did for COVID also decreased the infectiousness and the spread of these other viruses as well.”

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Dr. Angelo Mikrogianakis, chief of pediatrics at McMaster Children’s Hospital, says a number of child care services were moved to virtual platforms amid the COVID-19 pandemic – including physiotherapy, mental health and general counselling.
Dr. Angelo Mikrogianakis, chief of pediatrics at McMaster Children’s Hospital, says a number of child care services were moved to virtual platforms amid the COVID-19 pandemic – including physiotherapy, mental health and general counselling. McMaster University

Mikrogianakis believes PPE and screenings are not something that will go away in the near future, even if the province moves into stage three and allows for more “ramping up” of care.

“I foresee that those things are going to stay in our health care system and we’re going to have to strike a new balance and figure out the best and safest way to move forward.”

Hamilton reports 3 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday

Hamilton, Ont., reported three new coronavirus cases on Thursday, which puts the city’s overall number of cases as of July 9 at 858, with 850 confirmed and eight probable, according to public health.

The city has no current institutional outbreaks and no COVID-19 patients at either St. Joe’s or Hamilton Health Sciences hospitals.

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To date, 786 of the city’s known COVID-19 cases — 92 per cent — have been resolved.

Read more: Close vote for Niagara regional councillors delays potential mask bylaw in region

There were no new reported deaths on Thursday, holding the total coronavirus-related deaths at 44. Thirty-four of the city’s deaths are connected to an institutional outbreak.

Niagara Region reports 1 new COVID-19 case

Niagara public health officials reported one new coronavirus case on Thursday. The region has 769 total cases, with 26 of them active.

The region reported no new deaths, leaving the overall total at 61, with 50 tied to long-term care or retirement homes.

The region has two institutional outbreaks at the Garden City Manor and Tabor Manor long-term care homes in St. Catharines.

Eighty-eight per cent (682) of Niagara’s cases have been resolved.

Haldimand-Norfolk reports no new COVID-19 cases 

Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit (HNHU) reported no new COVID-19 cases on Thursday. Overall, since the pandemic begain in March, the region has seen 444 lab-confirmed, positive cases.

Officials say 395 of those patients have since recovered.

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: St. Catharines to draft mandatory indoor mask bylaw

The region has 32 COVID-19-connected deaths with 27 tied to residents at Anson Place Care Centre, a nursing home, in Hagersville.

Halton Region reports no new COVID-19 cases

Halton Region reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. The region has 866 cases, including 784 confirmed positive and 82 probable cases.

The region still has 25 deaths tied to COVID-19 as of July 9, with 12 the result of an outbreak at an institution.

Public health says 793 cases, or more than 91 per cent, have been resolved.

The region has no institutional outbreaks as of Thursday.

READ MORE: Ontario introduces bill to extend some pandemic emergency measures over the next year

Seventy-nine of Halton’s total cases are connected to residents or patients in an institution.

Brant County reports no new COVID-19 cases

Brant County’s health unit (BCHU) reported no new COVID-19 cases on Thursday. The region has 124 total confirmed cases as of July 9.

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The county still has four deaths, with 119 total resolved cases. There is just a single COVID-19 patient currently in hospital.