As Ontario continues to get a handle on the surging third wave of COVID-19 cases and crushing patient loads at intensive care units, the Canadian Armed Forces and the Canadian Red Cross are preparing to deploy medical personnel to the province after a recent request for assistance.
“There are over 1,900 patients with COVID-19 in the province of Ontario’s hospitals and of those, 659 are being treated in intensive care for COVID-related illnesses. Nearly 450 patients that are in critical care require a ventilator to breathe,” an unclassified military warning order obtained by Global News Monday morning said.
“COVID variants of concern have spread rapidly in Ontario in recent weeks and in particular in the Greater Toronto Area. This has resulted in civilian hospital capacity being exceeded.”
In an update released Monday evening, the federal government announced up to three Canadian Armed Forces multi-purpose medical assistance teams, made up of critical care nursing officers and medical technicians, will be sent and the teams will be rotated over an unspecified time period.
The Royal Canadian Air Force was also tapped to fly in medical personnel from Newfoundland and potentially other jurisdictions.
The federal government is also paying for Canadian Red Cross staff to provide support or relieve staff in medical settings.
The statement said on-the-ground assessments are underway to determine the exact number of personnel that are needed.
News of the developments came after a spokesperson for federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said he received a “draft” request for assistance from the Ontario government around a week-and-a-half ago.
The exact nature of the assistance requested wasn’t clear at the time as that was said to be the subject of negotiations between both levels of government.
Among the federal government’s options was a plan to deploy medical staff from the Canadian Armed Forces, but additional staff and volunteers from the Canadian Red Cross were also an option.
At the time the “draft” request was received, a federal government source not authorized to speak publicly cautioned that it isn’t an official or formal request. The source told Global News the “draft” letter is typically the process used whenever a provincial government asks the federal government for urgent assistance.
On April 15, a spokesperson for Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones told Global News such a request wasn’t made by Jones or Health Minister Christine Elliott.
“Our only request to the federal government at this time is a greater and more steady supply of vaccines,” Stephen Warner said in a previous statement.
On Monday, Warner said the government is “exploring every potential measure to further build up Ontario’s health-care workforce.”
“We have been working with the federal government to identify health human resources located across various federal agencies who might be suitable for deployment to assist with the critical care surge in Ontario. At the conclusion of that process we have made a request for the assistance of those identified resources, many of whom reside, for example, within the Canadian Armed Forces and Canadian Red Cross organizations,” he said in a statement to Global news.
“In addition to health human resources, we are requesting logistical and operational support as we seek to augment our response to COVID-19. We thank the federal government for their continued support as we battle this third wave driven by COVID-19 variants.”
The deployment of Canadian Armed Forces to Ontario isn’t the first time personnel have been asked to respond to the pandemic. In 2020, military members were sent to multiple long-term care facilities to provide help.
In mid-April, the Ontario government appealed to the other provinces and territories for nurses and health-care workers.
Recent weeks have seen all-time daily case records shattered across the province with the peak high of less than 5,000 cases reported in a 24-hour period. On Monday, there were more than 3,500 new cases reported.
The cumulative total of COVID-19 cases in Ontario since the pandemic began is just before 450,000 cases and almost 8,000 people have died.