TORONTO — Ontario now has 150 COVID-19 patients in its intensive care units, crossing a key threshold that government projections have indicated could lead to cancelled surgeries, as Premier Doug Ford promised action to protect hospital capacity.
The stark new data was announced Thursday just hours before Ontario’s Progressive Conservative cabinet was preparing to debate new public health measures – which could include regional lockdowns – to fight surging virus spread.
Ford used his daily pandemic briefing to warn of the danger the province now faces and pledged to take action Friday with the new restrictions for COVID-19 hot spots Toronto, Peel and York Region.
“As it’s looking, these measures, they will have to be tough in the hardest hit areas,” he said. “We’re seeing concerning trends, our hospital ICU beds are in jeopardy and our long-term care homes are at risk. We have some difficult, but necessary decisions to make.”
The head of the Ontario Hospital Association warned Thursday that the once feared projection of 150 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units was now a reality and that facilities all regions of the province were reporting a rise in admissions.
“This means that some Ontario hospitals face heightened pressures in maintaining access to other vital services and procedures,” CEO Anthony Dale said in a statement. “Please know that given the gravity of the situation, hospitals will continue to (do) everything possible to maintain access to services for patients who need care.”
Ontario’s co-ordinator of the provincial outbreak response said the number of people in ICUs has grown by 49 per cent over the last week, but stressed that the danger to individuals and impact on families should not be lost when discussing the numbers.
“These people are extremely unwell,” Dr. Dirk Huyer said. “And so it’s really important to remember when we talk about numbers these are individuals.”
Dr. Michael Warner, the medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, said the province’s ICUs hit threshold five days earlier than the government had projected earlier this month.
“This means we’re going to have to limit access to non-COVID-related care, cancel cancer surgeries, cancel hip replacements, knee replacements,” he said. “We don’t want to do this. We can’t do this, people will die if we do this.”
Ford’s cabinet was to meet Thursday afternoon and Friday morning to consider options and new data prepared by Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams.
Williams said Thursday he has submitted his recommendations to Health Minister Christine Elliott but did not provide any further details.
Ontario’s associate medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, said that while she is not part of the group making recommendations to cabinet, the goal is to keep students in class.
“I do understand that schools are a high priority not to be closed as much as possible,” she said. “Obviously, we’ll have to see the recommendations.”
Warner urged Ford to implement new measures without delay.
“Premier Ford, if you’re going to make a move, let’s make it today,” he said Thursday. “Let’s not announce it tomorrow to be implemented Monday. We need to keep the health care system accessible to all patients, whether they have COVID or not.”
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Ontario reported 1,210 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, and 28 new deaths due to the virus.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said 361 cases are in Peel Region, 346 are in Toronto, and 143 are in York Region.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the ICU data “very concerning” and could have been avoided.
“This was something that the Ford government should have prepared to avoid, instead of waiting for it to unfold, and then scrambling to try to address,” she said.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the government wasted the summer months, when virus counts were low, and didn’t prepare for the pandemic’s second wave. Premier Ford must stop treating announcing new measures like a “game show”, he said.
“Business owners are telling me that the premier needs to stop dithering and make a decision and give (them) time to respond to that decision,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2020.