Ontario reported 3,369 new cases of COVID-19 and 29 more deaths on Saturday as overall admissions to intensive care units climbed to 900 for the first time.
Some 2,152 people in the province remain in hospital because of the infectious disease, a figure that has consistently been trending upward since the start of the third wave of the pandemic.
Of the patients in ICUs, 637 require ventilators to breathe.
As hospitals continue to move critically ill patients around the province and bring in health care personnel from other provinces, the Ontario health ministry said on Saturday that it hasn’t yet activated an ICU triage protocol.
Activating a triage would mean the hardest decisions health-care providers ever face will have to be made. These decisions include who gets potentially life-saving care and who doesn’t.
In a statement, the ministry said the current stay-at-home order — combined with investments to increase hospital beds across the province — means this more drastic step has not yet been taken.
“These efforts combined with the ramping down of elective surgeries and other non-emergent/urgent clinical activity will add an additional 700 — 1,000 beds and ensure our health system has the tools and resources needed to provide world-class care to every Ontarian who requires hospitalization,” the ministry said in the statement.
Last month, however, a number of Ontario medical professionals said they feared they may be forced to start triaging ICU patients within weeks.
According to the latest draft of Ontario’s protocol, which is a work in progress, the lowest level of triage, Level 1, means anyone with short-term mortality risk greater than 80 per cent is de-prioritized for an ICU bed.
Anthony Dale, president of the Ontario Hospital Association, said it would be considered a “failure” if hospitals had to enact a triage protocol given that efforts are being made across the province to provide every patient with the care they need.
“We’re working as hard as humanly possible … to make sure that it never comes into effect,” he said.
“We are fighting everyday to prevent it from occurring.”
WATCH | Ontario Hospital Association president speaks about the situation in ICUs:
Hospitals ‘working as hard as humanly possible,’ to keep triage protocol from being enacted
Dale said there is also a glimmer of hope based on the latest COVID-19 modelling projections released last week, which suggest the province’s third wave of the pandemic may have already reached its peak.
Despite this hope, Dale said the situation in ICUs is far worse than he had feared.
“Months ago, I never in my dreams would have thought that we could have reached this very high level of patients [in ICUs],” he told CBC News on Saturday.
“I never thought we would see anything like this.”
Ontario’s death toll reaches 8,079
As of Saturday, there are 1,050 new cases in Toronto, 819 in Peel Region, 286 in York Region, 158 in Ottawa and 157 in Durham Region, according to Health Minister Christine Elliott.
Public health units collectively administered 107,770 doses of vaccines on Friday, according to Ontario’s health ministry. As of Friday night, 373,559 people in Ontario had gotten both shots.
The province has used 5,247,684 doses of vaccines it has received to date.
Ontario said it plans to expand eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines substantially in May, with shipments to the province expected to ramp up in the coming weeks.
With millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines expected to begin arriving in Ontario, the province’s vaccine task force says it can accelerate its timeline so that all Ontarians over the age of 18 can use its call centre and booking portal starting the week of May 24.
Health Canada said on Friday that it’s holding off on distributing the first shipment of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine after it became clear that the doses that arrived on Wednesday were processed in the same U.S. plant that has been mired in quality-control problems.
Both Ontario and Toronto have reported this week that 40 per cent of its residents have been vaccinated to date.
“While we take a minute to mark the 40 per cent goal being met early, I want you to know that we won’t rest until everyone has received their vaccination, the lockdown is lifted, and we truly put this pandemic behind us,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Ontario’s network of labs completed 46,803 test samples since the last update and logged a test positivity rate of 7.3 per cent.
The new deaths reported Saturday bring the official death toll to 8,079.
The seven-day average currently sits at 3,618, down from 3,722 on Friday.
Registered nurse in Peel Region dies with COVID-19
On Friday, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) said in a statement that a registered nurse who worked in Peel Region, Lorraine Gouveia, has died after contracting COVID-19.
“Lorraine has left us far too soon and we honour her commitment to her role as an RN and for her kind spirit,” the statement reads.
The healthcare community is in mourning!<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/RIP?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#RIP</a> Lorraine Gouveia, a frontline nurse who worked in Peel Region & has died of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a>.<br><br>Her colleagues describe her as a fierce activist, loving mom & admired friend who dedicated her life to helping others.<br><br>We will never forget ? <a href=”https://t.co/2RfhVudnBR”>pic.twitter.com/2RfhVudnBR</a>
Gouveia was described by the Service Employees International Union as a “fierce activist, loving mother, admired friend and dedicated to making the lives of everyone she came in contact with better.”
In the wake of the her death, the RNAO called on Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government to “immediately act on all the recommendations of the science table and the various long-term care reports.”
While Ontario has adopted some recommendations made by Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, such as targeting neighbourhoods identified as COVID-19 hot spots, Ford’s sick-leave announcement didn’t include 10 days of paid sick days as recommended by the panel.
Asked Friday about the number of sick days, Ford said he appreciated advice from the science table, but also takes guidance from hospital CEOs and Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health.
Ontario wasn’t prepared to address pandemic: report
Meanwhile, a final report from an independent commission released on Friday evening said Ontario was not prepared to address a pandemic and had no plan to protect residents in long-term care thanks to years of neglect.
The province’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission 322-page report highlighted the actions and inactions that contributed to the devastation in long-term care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report found that the province failed to learn lessons from the SARS epidemic in 2003 and that sweeping reforms are needed to protect Ontario’s vulnerable residents in the future.
The commission said poor facility design and resident overcrowding heightened sickness and death in the nursing homes, with nearly 4,000 residents and 11 staff dying of COVID-19 by the end of April.
It also said a severe staffing shortage and a workforce poorly trained in infection control measures compounded the situation.
New facilities need to be built to address the needs of the province’s aging population, the commission said, adding that the government also needs to reconsider how those nursing homes are managed, with a focus on quality care.
To date, 3,918 long-term care residents have died with COVID-19.
There are currently 54 long-term care homes with active COVID-19 outbreaks, up from 41 this time last week.
Ford calls for quarantine measures at U.S. border
The report follows a statement by Ford on Friday that quarantine measures need to be increased at Canada’s land border with the U.S.
“We can’t take anything for granted right now, we need to be more vigilant than ever,” Ford said.
“Not enough is being done to keep these deadly variants out of Canada,” he said.
Ford noted people are flying to Buffalo, N.Y., and taking a taxi over the border to avoid quarantining.
CBC News reported on Thursday that Ford’s government sent the federal government, such as mandatory hotel stays, to be implemented at the land border with the U.S.