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Ontario hospitals grapple with capacity issues as coronavirus cases rise

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TORONTO — Ontario’s hospitals are warning that the rising number of COVID-19 patients in their wards are making it increasingly tough to continue other procedures.

The Ontario Hospital Association urged residents Wednesday to follow public health measures in an effort to help address capacity issues, particularly in intensive care units across the province.

That came as the province reported 656 people in hospital due to COVID-19, including 183 in intensive care, and 106 people on ventilators. Health experts have previously said having more than 150 patients in intensive care could lead to cancelled surgeries.

Read more: Ontario reports more than 1,700 new coronavirus cases, 35 deaths

“Ontario hospitals are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain access to vital surgeries and procedures with COVID-19 cases rising,” the hospital association said in a statement posted on social media.

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“Hospitals are doing everything they can, but they need your support. Help stop the spread by making better practical choices every day.”

The OHA has been warning of capacity issues for months as hospitals are pressed to fulfill all of their regular duties while also caring for COVID patients, running testing centres, and assisting some long-term care homes.

Hospital capacity has been an issue in COVID-19 hot spots, such as Peel Region, for weeks, but those pressures have also spread to other areas.

The Grand River Hospital in Waterloo Region paused elective surgeries this week after its intensive care unit reached capacity.

Read more: Coronavirus: Latest developments in the Greater Toronto Area on Dec. 2

In Windsor-Essex, the Windsor Regional Hospital said high patient numbers were challenging the entire regional health-care system and had made it necessary to impose strict visitor restrictions in an effort to reduce transmission of the virus.

NDP Legislator Catherine Fife, who represents a Waterloo riding, pressed the government Wednesday for further resources to bolster hospitals.

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“What is the premier going to do to ensure that our hospitals have the support they need to get through this crisis? Do it now, we’re at the tipping point,” she said.

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Health Minister Christine Elliott insisted that hospitals are not in crisis because the province has allocated money for new beds. She said while Ontario’s numbers are nothing to brag about, the province is flattening the curve.

“Ontario is not in crisis right now,” Elliott said. “You want to speak about who is in crisis … we’re taking a look at Alberta where they’re doubling up patients in intensive care units. We’re not doing that in Ontario.”

Liberal House Leader John Fraser slammed Elliott for the remark, and said the province should be focused on its response at home.

“What’s she going to do next, compare us with South Dakota?” he said.

Extra contact tracers sent to Windsor-Essex

Meanwhile, the province sent two dozen contact tracers to Windsor-Essex as the region grapples with numerous outbreaks of COVID-19.

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Earlier in the week, the region’s top doctor warned that Windsor-Essex was “at risk of going into a lockdown.”

“Given the increasing case counts … we will be on the verge of collapsing the public health capacity and also the acute care system capacity now that we have two outbreaks in the hospital system,” said Dr. Wajid Ahmed.

Elliott acknowledged the situation on Wednesday and said the province was working with the region.

Read more: Windsor mayor apologizes for breaking COVID-19 rules when dining out with 7 people

“We are aware that there is a considerable concern regarding public health resources in Windsor-Essex,” she said. “There is some more significant community transmission there, which is why we’ve been putting further restrictions in that area.”

The region entered the red level of the province’s tiered, colour-coded pandemic response framework on Monday — just two weeks after advancing from the green level to yellow, and then to orange. The red level is one short of a lockdown.

As of Wednesday, there were 17 active outbreaks in the region, Ahmed said, noting that the public health unit was sending regular updates to the province.

Of particular concern, he noted, is the impact on schools, with two elementary schools currently closed due to outbreaks.

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At one school, 29 students and nine staff tested positive for the virus.

“When you have more background cases in the community, it does pose risk inside the school system,” Ahmed said, adding that more schools could be forced to close.

The Windsor-Essex Public Health unit recorded 41 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, along with two new deaths.

The province as a whole, meanwhile, reported 1,723 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, and 35 new deaths due to the virus.