Hospital cases rise in Ontario, Quebec; BC, Alberta is preparing to return to school

Paramedics drive a patient past ambulances outside a Toronto hospital on Jan. 5. Hospitals in several parts of Canada are under the weight of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.Chris Young / The Canadian Press

The rapidly expanding Omicron variant of COVID-19 Hospital admissions pushed further toward dangerous levels over the weekend in eastern Canada as children in the westernmost provinces prepared to return to classrooms on Monday.

The vast majority of Omicron cases are mild – milder than those associated with previous COVID-19 variants, experts are more and more comfortable saying – but the large number of infections pushes some hospitals beyond their capacity limits.

Quebec reports 2,436 hospitalizations, 23 more deaths associated with COVID-19

Ontario reports 412 COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit, 2,419 admissions

On Sunday, Quebec reported 140 new admissions of COVID-19 patients to hospitals, for a total of 2,436. Intensive care cases jumped to 257. In Ontario, hospital admissions reached 2,419, although not all hospitals in the province report case numbers on weekends. There were 412 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units in Ontario.

Last week, after doctors at Bluewater Health in Sarnia, Ont. Saw the number of COVID-19 cases quadruple from pre-Christmas levels, they released a open letter to their community: “Our best guide … is to stay home (not socialize), get vaccinated / boosted as soon as possible, and wear a mask in public indoor spaces,” it said.

Mike Haddad, Bluewater’s chief of staff, said the hospital’s intensive care unit and medical floor are both at full capacity, mostly with unvaccinated patients. In Lambton County, where Sarnia is located, the COVID-19 vaccination rate is below the provincial average. Sometimes patients who have been hospitalized will have a chance to talk about some of the vaccine misinformation they have heard, and then they will ask to be vaccinated when it is too late to help, said Dr. Haddad. His hope is to reach more people before they become infected.

“Patients come to us and trust that we will do our best to save them with the help of science. It is the same science that created vaccination for many decades, ”said Dr. Haddad.

At Hamilton Health Sciences Juravinski Hospital, the ICU operates over capacity. Staff have had to double patients in intensive care units.

“When the Omicron numbers started to escalate in mid-December, the ICU numbers kept stable … But around Christmas we started to see them rise. And they have just kept rising,” said Bram Rochwerg, an intensive care physician. and Juravinski’s leader on the spot.

Last spring, ICU cases peaked in Ontario 900, but Dr. Rochwerg warned that hospitals are so briefly staffed right now that the system would not be able to handle anything near it again. Some employees are away with COVID-19 infections or exposures. Others have had to take stress sheets, he said.

Elyse Berger Pelletier, emergency room doctor at Hôtel-Dieu de Lévis, in Lévis, Que., Reported the same problem: “We have empty beds, it’s just that we do not have nurses to take care of the patients,” she said.

In Laval, intensive care physician Joseph Dahine said part of the recent increase in admissions comes from non-COVID-19 patients whose health care was delayed during previous waves of the pandemic when people infected with the virus flooded hospitals.

“These patients are sicker than ever. Their care is put on hold, but their underlying disease is not. Their cancer is developing. They come in with a heart attack because they did not get their symptoms checked,” said Dr. Dahine .

Parents in BC, Alberta anxious as schools have to reopen in mid-COVID-19 rise

As Omicron spreads across the country, schools in Alberta and British Columbia will resume teaching on Monday, after both provincial governments imposed an extra week off to allow time for stricter security measures after the Christmas holidays. Schools in Saskatchewan – which on Friday broke its daily infection record with 1,170 new cases – started on schedule last week. (Students in Ontario and Quebec are now attending classes online. Personal learning is set to resume on January 17.)

Some parents and advocates are concerned that the protection measures currently in place in schools are inadequate, given how contagious Omicron is and the relatively low vaccination rates among younger children.

Julia Hengstler, a member of the Safe Schools Coalition BC advocacy group, has decided to keep her son at home. Ms. Hengstler said her biggest concerns are that the province is relaxed guidelines for physical distance and its lack of investment in technology – such as HEPA filters and high-quality masks – to reduce contamination in common areas.

The BC Department of Education said measures introduced since the start of the pandemic will remain, including mask wear and physical distance, staggered start and stop times for activities and reconfigured classrooms. The ministry has set aside 500,000 lightning tests for kindergarten for 12th grade.

Security issues are too Alberta is burdening parents as they face sending their children back to classrooms.

Wing Li, communications director for Support our Students Alberta, a parenting group, said all schools across the province should offer distance learning to families who prefer it. As it stands, not everyone is doing it, she said, which has caused some parents to worry that Omicron will force the children home again.

“It’s going to be like phase six of this distance-learning roller coaster and back in class,” Li said. She added that she plans to send her child back to school on Monday and then monitor the situation.

Teachers are concerned that no more has been done to address classroom security, said Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers Association. Alberta’s Prime Minister Jason Kenney’s government has promised to distribute medical – grade rapid tests and masks to schools, though they are not expected to arrive until the end of this week at the earliest.

“So we want to start schools without everyone getting the absolute minimum of what the government said they would introduce and that is causing a lot of anxiety and stress among people,” Mr Schilling said.

Alberta’s Ministry of Health said it weighed the risk of the virus in children against the possibility that being away from school will affect their mental health, learning and social interaction. It said that infection poses a low risk to children, especially the vaccinated. Government statistics show that 80 percent of 12-17-year-olds in the province have received two doses. About 37 percent of Alberta five-to-11-year-olds have received at least one shot.

Joan Robinson, en pediatric infectious disease doctor in Edmonton, said the greater risk to children remains time away from the classroom.

She said her opinion on school closures would change if a variant emerged that caused more serious illness in children.

“The reality is that unless an entire family lives as hermits, even if the child does not go to school, there is still a reasonable chance that – with Omicron out there – someone in the household will bring COVID home anyway.” Dr. Robinson said.

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