As a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic grips the nation, hospitals in Canada are seeing an influx of COVID-19 patients, with doctors warning of more cancellations of regular screenings and surgeries to ease the pressure on the health-care system.
On Tuesday, the country added 6,345 new infections, pushing the national caseload to 474,820, according to a Global News tally. As of Wednesday, at least 3,448 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 across different provinces.
“We’re seeing a pretty significant number of COVID-19 cases in many communities across the country,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist and physician at Toronto General Hospital, told Global News.
“The hospital systems are starting to get overwhelmed and … we’re starting to see hospitals shift gears such that they can provide surge capacity, basically limiting some care in other areas so that they can provide care for an influx of patients infected with COVID-19. It’s pretty challenging.”
In Ontario, which set a new daily record of 2,275 cases on Tuesday, hospitals in the grey lockdown and red control zones have been told to ensure up to 15 per cent of staffed adult acute inpatient beds are available for COVID-19 patients.
This comes in anticipation of an influx of patients as infections have skyrocketed in recent weeks.
A memo issued by Ontario Health CEO Matthew Anderson to hospitals said the province has hit a “critical phase” in the pandemic, with “widespread” community transmission of the virus.
As cases have surged with the onset of winter, parts of Ontario, including Toronto, Windsor-Essex, York and Peel Region, have been put under lockdown.
In Quebec, which has seen the highest number of cases in Canada at 169,173, there was an increase of 69 hospitalizations on Tuesday to reach 959.
The situation is also growing increasingly dire in the third-worst affected province of Alberta.
Since the start of November, the province has seen a 300 per cent jump in hospitalizations for COVID-19.
“The numbers of patients that are hitting the hospital, particularly the intensive care units (ICU), is at a level that I have never seen before in 10 years of practice,” Dr. Daniel Niven, an ICU physician in Calgary, told Global News.
“The volume is absolutely incredible and it’s only going to get worse.”
According to new national public health modelling, should Canada continue on its current trajectory, the country could see between 12,000 to 14,000 daily coronavirus cases by January.
To free up beds, staff and equipment for COVID-19 patients during the first wave in the summer, hospitals had to cancel planned surgeries, with a 47 per cent decline in the number of procedures performed from March to June, according to data by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).
The cancellations have created a massive backlog for hospitals, health-care workers say.
A Deloitte study commissioned by the CMA in October estimated that at least $1.3 billion is required in additional funding to return wait times for six types of procedures to pre-pandemic levels.
There are now concerns over the increased delays in routine screenings, surgeries and elective procedures during the second wave, putting other non-COVID-19 patients at risk.
“Certainly the hospitals have the capabilities to cancel a lot of care that isn’t as acute as sick people with COVID-19 might require and provide care for such individuals, but of course, it comes at a tremendous cost,” Bogoch said.
“The price is that other patients won’t be able to get the care that they deserve.”
Canada began to roll out the first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine this week.
The initial shipment of 30,000 vaccines is being split between the provinces on a per-capita basis.
Experts are hopeful the inoculation of the high-risk populations in the initial stages may ease some of the pressure on the hospitals.
–With files from Heather Yourex-West, Global News