Ontario’s Ministry of Health is instructing emergency departments to prepare for “an extreme surge” in demand.
An update from the Ministry of Health Monday said plans are also in place to expand pediatric capacity to 150 per cent, with a reduction in planned surgeries at most pediatric centres to create capacity.
Officials said making capacity for pediatric health care would mean other parts of the system are “impacted.” They said the system was “extraordinarily strained.”
The crisis plans to combat a surge in hospital demand, particularly from children, came as Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, made a plea for people to return to regular mask wearing.
Speaking at a press conference at Queen’s Park on Monday morning, Moore said hospitals were facing increasing pressure from respiratory illnesses.
He said influenza season was “fully underway.”
“What we are facing is a triple threat,” Moore said.
The “difficult and complex fall that was predicted, has materialized,” Ontario’s top doctor said.
However, Moore — who can recommend Premier Doug Ford’s cabinet institute a mandatory masking policy similar to the rules in place during the height of the pandemic — said he was asking, not ordering, people to wear a mask.
“I hope Ontarians will heed the call,” Moore said.
Speaking on Sunday, Ford made similar remarks. In response to repeated questions about mask mandates, the premier would only say that he relied on the advice of experts.
“We have experts all over this,” he said, urging people to be “vigilant” and practice pandemic precautions such as hand washing and mask wearing.
Both Ford and Moore are facing growing calls to take action as hospitals, particularly pediatric wards, begin to crumple under growing pressure.
On Friday, Sick Kids hospital in Toronto said it would reduce its planned surgeries to protect critical care beds amid an unprecedent surge in children requiring acute care.
Sick Kids president Dr. Ronald Cohn said the hospital had “no choice” but to prioritize “urgent, emergency and time-sensitive surgeries” as of Monday in order to preserve critical care beds for an influx of patients.
The hospital’s chief medical officer told Global News the province is dealing with a “pediatric crisis,” one that he hasn’t experienced in his 18-year medical career.
“It’s filling up every single ward of the hospital,” said Dr. Lennox Huang. “Our ICU is pretty much right at capacity, we’re seeing this in our emergency department and our general pediatric floors as well.”
The province’s top doctor is “strongly recommending” wearing masks in all indoor public places.
Moore said a mask mandate would be the “furthest” the province would go.
“I am reminding Ontarians to get back to using all the layers of protection that we know work,” Moore said.
Moore reiterated early pandemic talking points: wear a mask inside, stay home when sick, hand hygiene, clean surfaces and regular vaccine updates.
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