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COVID-19: Pressure mounting on Montreal hospitals amid pandemic’s fourth wave

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 cases on the rise in Montréal' COVID-19 cases on the rise in Montréal
WATCH: The number of people being hospitalized from COVID-19 is increasing in Montréal. According to Montreal Public health authorities, the rate of infections has accelerated over the past few weeks, and the unvaccinated are filling up the city’s ICUs. As Gloria Henriquez reports, officials fear the increase could overload the health-care system in a matter of weeks. – Sep 15, 2021

Montreal public health officials are warning of increased pressure on city hospitals as the number of new cases of COVID-19 continues to increase.

Regional public health director Dr. Mylène Drouin said Montreal is seeing an average of 250 new cases every day, with the more contagious Delta variant now making up the majority of cases.

There are currently 136 active outbreaks across the territory, including 61 in work settings, 28 in schools, 24 in daycares and 14 in care homes for seniors.

She explained that while cases are not increasing exponentially, there is sustained community transmission and that there is a direct correlation with higher positivity rates in neighbourhoods with lower vaccine coverage.

“We still have 300,000 people who are not adequately vaccinated in the adult population and 200,000 for those 11 and under,” Drouin said, adding that the virus still has a good basin of more vulnerable people that it can infect.

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Efforts are continuing to get more people vaccinated, especially in high schools, with only 63 per cent of those aged 12 to 17 adequately vaccinated.

“I don’t need to repeat it, but the vaccine is effective,” Drouin said.

“It protects against the more severe forms of the illness and the latest analyses from the Institute (INSPQ) showed that a non-vaccinated person is four times more at risk of being infected if they come into contact with a case and 30 times more at risk of being hospitalized.”

Drouin, however, cautioned against thinking being fully vaccinated meant being invincible and said that people should continue to follow public health guidelines including social distancing and wearing a mask.

Read more: Staff shortages could impact health services, Quebec health minister warns

Sonia Bélanger, head of the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, one of 10 regional health authorities in the city, said the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases is being felt in hospitals across the city.

There are currently 70 patients being treated in Montreal hospitals, with an additional 43 requiring care in intensive care units.

Bélanger also reiterated the need for people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 to get their shots.

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“It is people who are not vaccinated that risk clogging up the health-care network in the coming weeks,” she said, adding that in the last 28 days, 87 per cent of hospitalized patients did not have their two doses of vaccine, while 71 per cent of ICU patients were unvaccinated.

Hospital emergency rooms are already under pressure with most operating at 110 per cent overcapacity on most days. Bélanger said on some days it gets as bad as 150 to 160 per cent overcapacity.

Dr. Paul Warshawsky,  ICU medical chief at the Jewish General ICU said they’ve had to transfer patients to other hospitals and fears things are going to get worse.

“We’re definitely not at the peak yet. I don’t think anybody thinks we’re even close to the peak yet. I think that it’s going to continue to slowly build,” he said of serious COVID-19 cases.

“At some point, the government will have no choice but to start instituting more lockdown plans. Because unless everybody goes out and gets vaccinated right now..”

She urged people to avoid the ER and said they should first seek assistance with their family doctor or by making an appointment with a medical clinic.

Read more: Small group of nurses protests against mandatory vaccines outside Montreal hospital

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The push for vaccination also includes health-care workers, 87 per cent of which are fully vaccinated and 92 per cent of which have at least one dose.

Bélanger said there are roughly 100,000 health-care workers in the public sector in Montreal and it’s safe to assume that those who got a first dose will get a second.

That, however, still leaves 8,000 workers unvaccinated.

Click to play video: 'Quebec mandates COVID-19 vaccinations for health-care providers who work with patients' Quebec mandates COVID-19 vaccinations for health-care providers who work with patients
Quebec mandates COVID-19 vaccinations for health-care providers who work with patients – Aug 17, 2021

The government has set a deadline of Oct. 15 for health-care workers to become fully vaccinated or risk being suspended without pay.

Bélanger said no efforts are being spared to get employees on board by increasing available time slots for vaccination and bringing mobile vaccination clinics to the facilities.

“We are doing everything so as to not end up having to cut services,” Bélanger said in reference to potential staff shortages and their impact on the health network.

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With one month left before the Oct. 15 deadline, Bélanger remained optimistic.

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