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‘It is safe to open up’: Toronto ICU doctor optimistic about Ontario’s 2nd pandemic summer

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WATCH ABOVE: The third wave of the pandemic has hit Ontario’s ICUs the hardest. Plans for this summer may depend a lot on the number of COVID patients in hospitals and the pressure on the health-care system. Caryn Lieberman has more from Humber River Hospital – May 18, 2021

Despite high COVID-19 case count across Ontario’s intensive care units, one Toronto-area critical care physician is suggesting there is hope for “normalcy” this summer.

“Even if we’re still having significant cases of COVID, I think for people’s health, for children’s health, mental health especially, I think we have to go back to some normalcy, open up camps, for example, with the necessary precautions. I think that’s really essential for everyone,” said Dr. Jamie Spiegelman.

On Sunday, Premier Doug Ford gave the green light to summer camps in the province to reopen but gave no additional details.

Spiegelman said there is no choice.

Read more: Doug Ford says Ontario summer camps will be allowed to open this year

“I do think if we don’t do that kind of stuff, open up camps … even open up surgeries because people are dying from cancer that they’re not getting surgeries from, the effect of that is probably going to be even larger than the deaths that we’re seeing from COVID. People are going to die from cancer. Children are going to commit suicide. Those are things that we have to avoid,” he said.

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In the ICU at Humber River Hospital where Spiegelman works, there are currently 35 patients with COVID-19, 27 of them are hooked up to ventilators. There is an additional 21 patients requiring critical care who do not have COVID-19. This is the first time in more than a year that the medical team is caring for that many non-COVID-19 patients.

“Right now we are seeing people with heart disease, strokes, other neurological diseases that don’t have COVID come in and are on life support in the ICU, kind of like our normal ICU before COVID,” said Spiegelman.

It is a sign things may be changing in the intensive care unit.

Read more: ‘She deteriorated like she fell off a cliff’: Vaccinated Ontario senior battles COVID-19 in hospital

Spiegelman noted, however, ICU COVID-19 occupancy will remain high for some time due to the nature of those patients’ needs.

“Once a patient comes into ICU and gets on a ventilator, they don’t come off a ventilator very quickly. In the old days, we had a patient that came into the ICU, got pneumonia, got better in a week and got extubated or came off the ventilator. Now, what we’re finding with COVID patients is they don’t come off the ventilator very quickly,” he explained.

“They stay on a ventilator from anywhere between two weeks to two to three months,” he added.

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But Spiegelman and the team have noticed despite the high case load, they have finally reached a “plateau” in the third wave.

Read more: COVID-19: Critical care nurses in high demand in Ontario as 3rd wave puts pressure on hospitals

This gives him hope of a less restrictive second pandemic summer in Ontario.

“I do think we have to open up and with their current trend, with the third wave, with it plateauing at this point, and I think over the course of May and June, I think the numbers will for sure go down. And that’s definitely the trend right now. I think we’re looking at a summer that can open up in June, July and August, where I think we go back to some normal,” he said.

“I think it’s essential that we open up somewhat and especially the outdoor activities. I think that’s necessary.”

After the summer, Spiegelman said he fully expects a fourth wave, but it won’t be anything like what the team is dealing with right now.

Read more: ‘A lot of suffering’: Frontline health-care workers describe the moments before death by COVID-19

“It won’t be as big as the third wave. And with new variants, we kind of all expect a fourth wave to happen in the fall going into next winter but we’re optimistic that vaccines will work … just like the flu. The flu mutates and we need a new vaccine every year. It’s going to be the same concept with COVID, most people believe,” he said.

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