Ontarians await more measures and models next week; Ford says now in "desperate" situation

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the COVID-19 pandemic is going to get out of hand if case counts continue to spike and the health care system continues to be strained, calling now "the most serious situation we've ever been in since the beginning of the pandemic." 

"We're in a desperate situation and when you see the modeling, you'll fall off the chair," Ford said Friday, in response to a question about potentially shutting down manufacturing and construction sites. "Everything is on the table right now, there will be further measures because this is getting out of control." 

But Ford did not indicate what the numbers, nor what the further measures could be, although Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said it may be time to explore what the province did at the very beginning of the pandemic. 

"Perhaps similar to what happened in the spring and looking at other jurisdictions, what they have done and what has worked, so that we can get ourselves out of this, with the light at the end of the tunnel," she said. 

Ontario reported 4,249 new cases of the virus Friday, however that includes a data upload delay by Toronto Public Health of about 450 cases that should've been reported earlier this week, with the seven-day rolling average hitting a new record. 

There were also 26 more deaths. 

The province conducted a record 71,581 tests, with an overall positivity rate of 6.2 per cent, with the increased cases putting more strain on the health care system. 

HEALTH CAPACITY 

The head of the Ontario Hospital Association reported there's now 383 people in intensive care units, which is well over the 250-threshold where hospitals delay elective surgeries. 

Roughly 40 per cent of ICU beds in the central region are occupied by those with COVID-19.

The surge has led to Ontario Health telling hospitals to prepare for a team approach, where dozens and potentially hundreds of patients are transferred between regions based on occupancy levels. 

Dr. Chris Simpson, incoming executive vice-president of Ontario Health told CP24 that usually happens on a very limited number of people.

"We're now talking about doing this by the dozens and over the course over the next couple of months, there will probably be hundreds of patients that will be moved," he said. "I think we need to be prepared for the possibility, especially as the pandemic progresses, that people may need to get quite far from home."

Yaffe said not only are more people in hospital, in ICU and in ventilators, there's also the various mutant variants of the virus to detect. 

"We don't want to scare people, but on the other hand I think there's too much complacency and I understand it, we're tired, it's been a long time, people are sick and tired of the whole thing," she said. "But believe me, although it tends to affect more older people, it does affect younger people too." 

VACCINES

As for vaccines, Premier Ford credited the prime minister for trying to distribute more vaccines to the province, but as more vaccination sites have come online, he expressed worry of when they'll run out. 

University Health Network CEO Dr. Kevin Smith said on social media his facility's supply would expire by the end of the day, tweeting "urgently need vaccine." 

"The prime minister is working his back off," Ford said of Justin Trudeau. "If there's one thing I'm going to ask Health Canada again, please approve Astra Zenaca." 

As of the province's last update, there's still many more of the province's doses to distribute. 

The province has received over 143,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, along with 53,000 Moderna doses. 

As of last night, over 87,000 doses have been deployed, as sites need to calculate how much to save for second doses. 

In an email, the province said even though the 48,000 doses received this week will be exhaused by the end of next weekend, some sites are administering doses faster than others. 

"In some vaccination locations this will happen sooner based on the rate of vaccination at each site," the health ministry said in a statement. "We need the federal government to deliver more COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible to keep up with Ontario’s capacity to administer, which continues to increase every day."

In a federal government update later in the day, Maj.-Gen Dany Fortin said Pfizer deliveries will continue on a weekly basis, with 208,650 doses delivered to the province weekly for the rest of the month. 

By the end of next week, 171,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine will be delivered to provinces, with similar distribution to past shipments, eventually hitting up to 250,000 doses in February. .

SCHOOLS

On education, the province is still waiting on the $380 million coming from the federal government's fund for returning safely to school. 

With Southern Ontario in-person instruction deferred until at least January 25th, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said they're committing that funding to expand asymptomatic testing, as well as improved ventilation and more staffing. 

"Plus some additional enhancements to our screening protocol," he said, though he wasn't specific in what those measures would be.