Hospitalizations and ICU visits to rise in coming weeks, Ontario’s top doctor warns as

Ontario’s top doctor is warning that the number of COVID-19 patients who require hospitalization and critical care in intensive care units is likely to rise in the coming weeks, as the Omicron variant continues to spread. 

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said at a briefing Tuesday afternoon that the province is experiencing exponential growth and is currently on track to record more new daily cases than it ever has throughout the entire pandemic.

The current surge, Moore said, caused hospitalizations increased by nine per cent compared to last week. While the number of patients in ICUs remained stable, Moore said he expects that number to grow in the coming days and weeks as case numbers grow exponentially.

“This variant moves quickly, and we need to do the same,” Moore said. “There is no question that in the coming days and weeks, we will require ongoing vigilance … We must stay cautious, disciplined and never underestimate this virus.”

The warning comes as the province’s testing and contact tracing systems strain under the pressure of more people going for testing and a growing number of positive tests. Moore said the province and public health units are focusing their contact tracing efforts on the highest-risk settings, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, retirement homes and other congregate settings such as shelters. 

He encouraged anyone who tests positive using a rapid antigen test to reach out to their close contacts on their own, and then self-isolate. 

Moore said he is issuing a “call to arms” to people to get their first, second or third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and asking people to keep holiday gatherings small to reduce the opportunities for the virus to spread over the holidays.

3,453 new cases

Ontario reported 3,453 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. Today’s case count is up 143 per cent from last Tuesday.

The Ministry of Health also reported the deaths of 10 more people with the illness, pushing the official toll to 10,123.

As of Monday, there were 412 people with COVID-19 in hospitals. That’s up from 385 last Tuesday. 

There were 165 patients being treated for COVID-related illnesses in intensive care, compared to 162 at the same time last week. Of those, 105 needed help from a ventilator to breathe.

The province says there are 644 adult ICU beds available if the rise in cases is followed by a wave of critical care admissions.

Meanwhile, public health units collectively administered their highest number of vaccines on a single day since mid-July.

Of the 206,595 shots given out on Monday, 187,511 were third doses or boosters, according to the Ministry of Health, while 14,189 were first doses.

The provincial government has said it intends to ramp up capacity in the coming weeks to administer between 200,000 and 300,000 booster shots every day, as Ontario faces a surge of Omicron cases.

The seven-day average of daily cases has climbed to 3,153, its first time above 3,000 since May 10, during the third wave of the pandemic in the province. Where it stands today is an 125 per cent jump from the same time last week. The seven-day average is currently on pace to double every five days or so.

Positivity rates have also continued to spike. On Tuesday, Public Health Ontario reported a 9.9 per cent positivity rate from 48,096 tests.

Ottawa Public Health has asked residents who have symptoms but can’t access a timely test to assume they are infected and self-isolate.

A similar strain on testing resources was reported in Kingston last week, and other health units have said they are bracing for the same problems.

Meanwhile, the Unity Health hospital network in Toronto says it has made the “difficult decision” to pause non-essential ambulatory care and surgical procedures, with the exception of urgent cases.

“Right now we need to focus all of our efforts, our people and resources on caring for our patients and assuring that we have the capacity to meet the demands of the pandemic,” Tim Rutledge, the network’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

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