Ontario science advisers urge six week stay home order as province pleads for help
By Colin Perkel and Holly McKenzie-Sutter
TORONTO — Ontario’s science advisers called for a six-week stay-at-home order and a focused vaccination strategy as they warned Friday that the province’s COVID-19 infections could climb higher than 15,000 cases per day without stronger measures.
The dire predictions came as the government pleaded with other provinces to send in nurses and health workers while its hospital system buckled under surging cases.
“Our progress is both frustrating and frightening,” Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s science advisory panel, said in presenting the latest projections.
Ontario reported 4,812 new cases — another record — on Friday, up from Thursday’s record of 4,736. It also reported 25 more deaths related to the virus.
The latest data from Critical Care Services Ontario showed 684 COVID-19 patients in adult intensive care units.
Hospitals were “bursting at the seams” and care was already being compromised, Brown said as the experts urged Premier Doug Ford’s government to order everyone to stay home for six weeks, and ramp up vaccinations as the only way to gain some control of the pandemic.
Vaccines were not reaching high-risk people fast enough to stem the surge in hospital and ICU admissions, Brown said.
He noted that while the gap has narrowed, people at lowest risk were still receiving more vaccines than those at highest risk.
“That is a difference that needs to be closed,” Brown said, nothing that the province would see “a very, very big return” in the number of cases prevented if shots are allocated to high-risk communities.
According to the advisory group, 60 shots of a COVID-19 vaccine would prevent a single case when following an age-based immunization approach across the province. By comparison, just 35 vaccines would prevent a single case when following a vaccination strategy that prioritizes high-risk communities.
Brown said ensuring workplaces are safe, supporting workers with sick leave and limiting mobility would make a provincial shutdown more effective.
Ford was expected to announce further restrictions later on Friday.
In a letter to all provinces and territories sent Friday morning, Ontario’s Deputy Health Minister Helen Angus said the province was short thousands of nurses and asked whether they had any to spare. The pandemic, Angus said, had strained hospital capacity in southern Ontario, particularly intensive care.
Ontario was expected to be short 4,145 nurses in the hospital sector alone over the next four months, Angus said, while asking her counterparts for 620 health professionals, including nurses and respiratory therapists.
“We are projecting a need for this critical support for four months following the anticipated peak of the third wave,” Angus wrote.
Alberta, however, declined, saying it was strapped itself.
“With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations on a sharp rise here in Alberta, we are simply not in a position to send our health-care workers outside the province at this time,” Jerrica Goodwin said. “Our priority must be and will be the health and safety of Albertans, and that means making sure our hospitals are adequately staffed to treat COVID-19 patients.”
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said the province was happy to provide personnel, expertise and extra equipment “where capacity allows.”
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged federal help as he acknowledged the dire COVID-19 situation in Ontario, especially in the Toronto area.
“In Toronto in particular, numbers are breaking record after record, and ICU hospital beds are filling up,” Trudeau said. “There’s no doubt that Canada’s largest city is struggling under the weight of this third wave.”
Trudeau said the Canadian Red Cross was on standby for deployment of mobile vaccination teams in areas with highest need as well as preparing for deployment in nursing homes.
“This is about getting doses to people where the situation is most serious,” the prime minister said. “We have approved a request to have the Canadian Red Cross deployed to up to 27 long-term care homes as needed.”
A Ford spokeswoman said Trudeau’s Red Cross offer was appreciated but ultimately of no use.
“Unless it is matched with an increase in supply, we do not need the Red Cross at this time for the administration of vaccines in Ontario,” Ivana Yelich said. “We do not have a capacity issue, we have a supply issue.”
Trudeau also said discussions were ongoing about providing more health-care workers, saying mobile units were already setting up hospital beds in Toronto and Hamilton. Ottawa has also shipped more equipment such as oxygen units and drugs to treat COVID-19, he said.
Meanwhile, another health network in Toronto said it would temporarily stop administering first doses of COVID-19 vaccines at two hospital-based clinics due to supply issues. Unity Health said the clinics at St. Joseph’s and St. Michael’s hospitals would close Sunday for at least a week, though existing appointments will not be cancelled.
The network said it wanted to focus on high-risk groups through pop-up clinics, mobile outreach and home visits.
Earlier this week, Scarborough Health Network and University Health Network said they were forced to cancel appointments and close immunization clinics as a result of vaccine shortages.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 16, 2021.
News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2021