COVID-19 hospitalizations reach a peak in Ontario

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by Brandon Mayer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Despite hope that the Omicron variant would provide an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitalizations from the virus rose sharply in the past two weeks, at one point reaching their highest levels since the pandemic began. A North Grenville resident reached out to the Times to ask some tough questions about the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the province, and whether these numbers are consistent with the claim that the province does not have enough nurses and doctors to care for the influx of COVID-19 patients. The man, who wished to remain anonymous, presented the Times with some numbers he had calculated using data from Statistics Canada. A calculation was done using data that was updated on January 13.

As of that date, 3,630 people in Ontario were hospitalized with COVID-19, with 481 of these people in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). It is difficult to obtain an accurate number of hospitals in Ontario, since many statistics include “hospital establishments”, rather than just true hospitals, and when there are several hospitals in the same system – such as with the Ottawa hospital – they are typically lumped in as one. An approximate number is 250 hospitals, leaving an average of about 14 COVID-19 patients per hospital, with approximately two in each hospital in the ICU. These numbers seem low, and indeed raise questions about why patients and nurses cannot be moved around to help reduce the burden on Ontario’s health care system.

But the numbers also call into question whether Ontario’s hospitals were properly staffed, even before the pandemic. Several months ago, dozens of nurses were fired from several hospitals in Ontario as they refused to get a COVID-19 vaccination. This move is now hitting Ontario’s hospitals hard, causing Health Minister, Christine Elliott, to announce earlier in January that internationally-trained nurses would be brought in to help with the staffing shortage. There are also unconfirmed reports that the Ontario government is considering forcing hospitals in the province to re-hire fired unvaccinated nurses.

Nursing is undoubtedly an in-demand profession, and the pandemic has produced many lessons about the province’s lack of preparedness for anything other than normal operations. The local resident who spoke with the Times commented that, “The easiest thing to do in a situation that is going south for the political parties is to blame someone or something else, [and] right now that’s the unvaccinated.”

Measures and restrictions continue to evolve and change frequently, and it is increasingly unclear which methods are best to control the pandemic. The situation has begun to level off, with cases of the virus slowly decreasing, and hospitalizations remaining steady. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has announced three key re-opening dates (one each in later January, February, and March) on which restrictions will be progressively eased. However, this plan will depend on the course of the virus, as usual. 

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