Increase in hospitalization cases in Ontario and Quebec; British Columbia and Alberta prepare to go back to school

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

The rapidly spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19 pushed hospital admissions to dangerous levels over the weekend in eastern Canada, as children in westernmost provinces braced for return to class on Monday.

The vast majority of Omicron cases are mild – milder than those associated with previous COVID-19 variants, experts say increasingly at ease – but the sheer volume of infections is pushing some hospitals beyond their capacity limits.

Quebec reports 2,436 hospitalizations, 23 more deaths linked to COVID-19

Ontario Reports 412 COVID-19 ICU Patients, 2,419 Hospitalizations

Quebec reported 140 new admissions on Sunday of COVID-19 patients to hospitals, for a total of 2,436. Critical care cases have jumped to 257. In Ontario, hospitalizations have reached 2,419, although not all hospitals in the province are reporting the number of cases to weekends. There were 412 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units across Ontario.

Last week, after doctors at Bluewater Health in Sarnia, Ont. Saw the number of COVID-19 cases quadruple from pre-Christmas levels, they issued an open letter to their community: t socialize) , get vaccinated / boosted as soon as possible and wear a mask in indoor public spaces, ”he said.

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

“Patients come to us and are convinced that we will do our best to save them through science. It is this same science that created vaccination for many decades, ”said Dr Haddad.

At Hamilton Health Science’s Juravinski Hospital, the intensive care unit is operating above capacity. The staff had to double the patients in the intensive care rooms.

“When Omicron’s numbers started increasing in mid-December, the ICU numbers were stable… But around Christmas time, we started to see them increase. And they just kept increasing, ”said Bram Rochwerg, intensive care physician and Juravinski site manager.

This spring, intensive care cases in Ontario topped 900, but Dr Rochwerg warned that hospitals are currently understaffed so the system is no longer able to handle anything close. Some staff are absent with infections or COVID-19 exposures. Others had to take stressful time off, he said.

Elyse Berger Pelletier, emergency physician at The Hôtel-Dieu de Lévis, in Lévis, Quebec, reported the same problem: “We have empty beds, it’s just that we don’t have nurses to take care of the patients”, a- she declared.

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

“These patients are sicker than ever. Their care is suspended, but not their underlying disease. Their cancer is progressing. They come in with a heart attack because they haven’t had their symptoms checked, ”said Dr Dahine.

Parents in British Columbia and Alberta worried as schools prepare to reopen amid COVID-19 outbreak

As Omicron spreads across the country, schools in Alberta and British Columbia will resume classes on Monday after the governments of both provinces imposed an additional week off to allow time to put in place stricter security measures after the Christmas holidays. Schools in Saskatchewan – which broke its daily infection record on Friday with 1,170 new cases – started on schedule last week. (Students in Ontario and Quebec are now taking online courses. In-person learning is expected to resume on January 17.)

Some parents and advocates are concerned that the protective measures currently in place in schools are insufficient, given Omicron’s contagiousness and relatively low vaccination rates among young 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 the detente of the province physical distancing guidelines and its lack of investment in technology – such as HEPA filters and high-quality masks – to reduce contagion in shared spaces.

The British Columbia Ministry of Education said measures instituted since the start of the pandemic will remain in place, including masks and physical distancing, start and end times for staggered activities and reconfigured classrooms. The ministry has reserved 500,000 rapid tests for Kindergarten to Grade 12.

Security issues are also weighing on Alberta parents who have to send their children back to classrooms.

Wing Li, communications director for Support our Students Alberta, a parent advocacy group, said all schools in the province should offer distance learning to families who prefer it. As it stands, not all of them do, she said, leading some parents to fear that Omicron will force children home again.

“It will be like phase six of this back-to-school distance learning roller coaster,” Ms. Li said. She added that she planned to send her child back to school on Monday and then monitor the situation. .

Educators are concerned that nothing has been done to improve safety in the classroom, said Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers Association. The government of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has pledged to distribute rapid tests and medical-grade masks to schools, although these are not expected to arrive until the end of this week at the earliest.

“So we are going to open schools without everyone getting the bare minimum of what the government said it was going to put in place, and that is causing a lot of anxiety and stress among people,” M said. Schilling.

The Alberta Department of Health said it was weighing the risks of the virus to children against the possibility that being away from school will affect their mental health, learning and social interaction. He said the infection poses a low risk to children, especially the vaccinated. Government statistics show that 80 percent of the province’s 12 to 17 year olds have received two doses. About 37 percent of Albertans aged 5 to 11 have had at least one injection.

Joan Robinson, a Edmonton pediatric infectious disease specialist said the greatest risk to children is time away from the classroom.

She said her opinion of school closures would change if a variant emerged causing more serious illness in children.

“The reality is, unless an entire family lives like hermits, even if the child doesn’t go to school, there is always a reasonable chance that – with Omicron out there – someone in the household is going to bring COVID home anyway, ”says Dr. Robinson.

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