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Ontario tells hospitals to activate emergency plans as number of COVID-19 patients spikes

Hospitals across Ontario have been ordered to brace for a spike in COVID-19 patients.

A memo from Ontario Health obtained by CBC News tells hospitals to prepare to activate emergency plans immediately. For hospitals in the grey lockdown and red control zones that means making available up to 15 per cent of their beds for COVID-19 patients.

Matthew Anderson, CEO of Ontario Health, a provincial government agency, said in the memo dated Tuesday that the pandemic has entered a more critical phase with community transmission now widespread.

Anderson said the ability of hospitals to care for patients with and without COVID-19 is being challenged. The memo was sent to every hospital CEO in the province.

Ability to care for patients ‘being challenged’ 

The memo tells all hospitals to be ready to activate their “surge capacity plans” within 48 hours.

“As we are all aware, we have entered a more critical phase of the pandemic where we are seeing widespread community transmission,” Anderson said in the memo. 

“Our ability to care for patients (COVID and non-COVID alike) is being challenged, so we are asking hospitals to work together, even more, to ensure we can continue to have the bed capacity to care for patients safely and effectively.”

Under those plans, hospitals located in regions now in grey lockdown or red control zones need to make 10 to 15 per cent of their beds available for COVID-19 patients.

At the moment, Toronto, Peel and York regions and Windsor are in the grey lockdown zone while Durham and Halton regions, Hamilton, Simcoe-Muskoka, Waterloo region, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph and Middlesex-London are in the red control zone.

An empty room in the intensive care unit at North York General Hospital. Hospitals in the grey lockdown and red control zones have been told to make available up to 15 per cent of their beds for COVID-19 patients. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Hospitals in the rest of the province are being told to prepare their facilities in case the public health units in which they are located are moved into a red control zone.

“The actions we collectively take in the next days and weeks will set the stage for our ability to meet escalating and anticipated capacity demands,” Anderson said. 

“Above and beyond actions at an individual organization’s level, we must all take a holistic view to ensure we have a coordinated and equitable approach to serve our patients safely and compassionately across the regions.”

Memo comes after number of hospitalizations tops 900

The memo comes as the number of COVID-19 patients in Ontario hospitals surpassed 900 for the first time since May. 

The number of people in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 is now 921, up from 857 on Monday — an increase of 64.

Of those, 249 are being treated in intensive care and 156 require the use of a ventilator, up five and seven, respectively, from Monday.

Some hospitals in the GTA are already full and have resorted to transferring patients to other facilities to ease the pressure.

Medical staff at North York General Hospital. There are 921 people in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19. The number surpassed 900 Tuesday for the first time since May. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Hospitals in Scarborough, Brampton and Mississauga, for example, have cancelled scheduled surgeries, while hospitals in York Region and Hamilton have warned that a capacity crisis is imminent.

In a statement a week ago, the CEOs of three hospitals in York Region said Mackenzie Health, Markham Stouffville Hospital and Southlake Regional Health Centre had reached a “tipping point” in their ability to manage the volume of COVID-19 patients. 

“After seeing a significant increase over the last week in the number of COVID-19 patients admitted to our hospitals, we are concerned about how this may impact access to care like scheduled surgeries for all patients across our communities,” the CEOs said.

“We are counting on our communities to help keep our staff, physicians and volunteers safe so they can continue to care for everyone who relies on us for care, for COVID-related illness as well as non-COVID-related illnesses and emergencies. 

The CEOs said while health care facilities had collaborated well to prepare for a second wave, it was the community’s turn to step up.

“What we need now more than ever is support from our communities to be vigilant in following public health guidance aimed at slowing the spread,” the statement said.

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