Ontario ICU capacity reaching critical level due to COVID-19 variants: hospital group

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 variants will cause surge in Ontario hospital cases, experts say'
COVID-19 variants will cause surge in Ontario hospital cases, experts say
WATCH ABOVE: With Canadians now being vaccinated, many expected COVID-19 cases, serious illnesses and deaths to decline. But new forecasts warn more rough times are ahead due to virus variants. Sean O'Shea explains. – Mar 26, 2021

A panel of provincial experts who belong to the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table is forecasting a dramatic increase in the number of hospital admissions and deaths because of virus variants.

“A 60 per cent higher risk of hospitalization, a doubling of the risk of admission,” said Dr. Peter Juni, a panel member and professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Toronto.

“We have two pandemics: we have the pandemic with the variants completely under control and the pandemic with the new variants absolutely out of control,” Juni said in an interview.

Read more: Ontario reports more than 2,100 new COVID-19 cases, 12 deaths

The panel will release a full report next week including a forecast that variants will result in many more deaths in the weeks ahead.

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Canada’s chief public health officer told reporters Friday that variants will seriously challenge the medical system’s ability to cope with rising case numbers.

“With increasing circulation of highly contagious variants, the threat of uncontrolled epidemic growth is significantly elevated,” said Dr. Theresa Tam.

“Current community-based public health measures will be insufficient to control rapid growth and resurgence is forecast,” Tam said.

The new dire warnings are echoed by some physicians working in emergency departments and intensive care units.

“The situation will worsen,” said Dr. Michael Warner, an intensivist and director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto.

“We don’t have enough vaccines in arms to have vaccines make a difference in hospital capacity at this time,” Warner told Global News in an interview.

Read more: Here’s who’s eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in 2nd phase of Ontario’s plan

The Ontario Hospital Association warned the “critical care system in Ontario appears to be reaching its saturation point.”

According to Critical Care Services Ontario, there were 1,871 patients receiving intensive care unit services in the province, including 401 with COVID-19-related critical illness as of Friday.

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“Best efforts will continue to be undertaken to maintain access to scheduled surgery, but unfortunately, further disruption is likely,” said Anthony Dale, the association’s president and chief executive officer in a news release.

Warner, a frequent and vocal critic of the province’s handling of the pandemic, urged the government to redeploy vaccine supplies strategically to areas with the highest case numbers, including Toronto and Peel Region instead of areas with relatively few cases.

Warner also said now is not the time to remove restrictions in hardest-hit areas.

“Any talk of loosening public health restrictions would be inconsistent with the situation in hospitals,” Warner said.

But shortly after the interview, Ontario Premier Doug Ford was asked about the government’s decision to allow personal care service providers, including hair stylists and nail salons in Toronto and Peel, to reopen effective April 12.

Read more: Outdoor fitness in Ontario lockdown regions allowed Monday, personal care services April 12

“We’re loosening it up just a little bit,” Ford told reporters, explaining his view that Ontario residents are frustrated with ongoing restrictions.

“I’m gonna be frank. People are tired, they’re exhausted out there, they need a bit of fresh air,” Ford said.

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Asked about predictions that Ontario hospitals would be further stretched by new cases arising from COVID-19 variants, health minister Christine Elliott said the province is ready.

“We are prepared to if there are further increases we will be able to admit people to hospital,” Elliott said.

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