Ontario adds more surge capacity, to utilize new hospital for COVID-19 cases
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Monday afternoon that the province is adding 500 additional surge capacity hospital beds in the Toronto, Durham, Kingston and Ottawa regions to deal with the pandemic’s strain on the health-care system.
In addition, the Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital originally scheduled to open in early February north of Toronto will be first used to handle COVID-19 patients to take pressure off other hospitals.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said Monday the Vaughan facility would be used in that capacity until the situation with COVID-19 has stabilized in the province.
“The idea is this hospital is going to be used … in order to take the load off of some other hospitals that are experiencing capacity challenges,” Elliott said.
Ontario reported 2,578 additional cases of COVID-19 on Monday. While the caseload was the lowest in more than two weeks, the number of patients with the illness who required a ventilator to breathe climbed above 300 for the first time since the pandemic began. The additional infections come as the province’s labs processed just 40,301 test samples for the novel coronavirus — tens of thousands fewer than there is capacity for in the system — and reported a test positivity rate of 6.6 per cent.
Meanwhile, the City of Toronto opened its first COVID-19 immunization clinic on Monday. The clinic’s aim is to vaccinate 250 people per day, although the delays in obtaining Pfizer-BioNTech doses may affect meeting that daily goal.
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Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccine supply dwindling, Premier Jason Kenney says
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told a news conference on Monday that the province is putting a temporary hold on the first dose of COVID-19 vaccinations to ensure it has enough vaccine to provide a second dose to people who have already received their first shot.
The move comes as the province’s supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is dwindling and about to run out. It is recommended that the vaccine’s second dose be given 21 days after the first shot, though health experts have said recently that interval can be stretched to up to six weeks and still offer protection.
“By pausing first appointments, we can ensure enough vaccine is allocated for committed second-dose appointments,” Kenney said.
“Second-dose appointments will not be cancelled, and we believe that we could administer second doses to all those who need them within the recommended time frame.”
Kenney had spoken previously about the possibility of Alberta procuring its own supply of vaccines amid some of the hiccups experienced early in the rollout between the two levels of government. On Monday, he said the federal government has exclusive contracts with eight pharmaceutical companies so Alberta would have to look for supply elsewhere.
Pfizer informed several countries including Canada late last week that in order to permanently upgrade its manufacturing capacity at its facility in Belgium, there will be a temporary slowdown of deliveries.
Federal Procurement Minister Anita Anand said on Twitter that she had been in touch with Pfizer and had been assured the company is “deploying all efforts” to return to its regular delivery schedule as soon as possible.
Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 case monitors make hundreds of hours of calls per day
Provincial public health authorities are advised by the Public Health Agency of Canada to contact people with COVID-19 at home every day to monitor both their symptoms and compliance with isolation rules, depending on available resources to make those phone calls, but not all do.
If contact tracers, who investigate the spread of the virus, are considered the public health detectives, then case monitors are the parents, writes CBC’s Bonnie Allen — checking on how you are and making sure you follow the rules.
Pamela de Bruin, clinical standards and professional practice lead with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said her agency uses a database to investigate, track and actively monitor positive cases. She said the “standard of care” is a daily phone call to every person in the province with COVID-19 excluding those already receiving care inside long-term care homes, hospitals or jails. They monitor symptoms, check on compliance and offer access to resources, such as mental health services.
In addition to active cases, the SHA makes a daily call to monitor their close contacts who have symptoms or comorbidities. The 10-minute phone calls to active cases require more than 600 staff hours a day, with SHA using 66 people from Statistics Canada for case-monitoring calls, as well as some nurses and licensed health workers.
Regina restaurant owner Jony Rahaman said his family didn’t have a thermometer to check their temperatures, so a public health worker sent one to their home.
“They call us every day,” he said. “Me and my wife, especially my wife, would wait for their call because we had so many questions. They’re so patient.”
The public health workers who called his family were like “guardian angels,” said Rahaman.
How far should police go to enforce pandemic infractions?
Two provincial governments again tightened pandemic restrictions this month, with Quebec implementing a curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., and Ontario declaring a second state of emergency since the pandemic began and issuing a stay-at-home order.
Skirting the public health restrictions in those two provinces, and others, can result in a fine from police or bylaw officers.
It’s an approach Michael Bryant, head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, takes issue with.
“You can’t enforce your way out of a pandemic,” Bryant said in an interview with CBC’s Cross Country Checkup. “But even if you do, you don’t need to. It doesn’t actually have the impact.”
Bryant said that marginalized people are already disproportionately affected by COVID-19-related law enforcement, a concern echoed by Ontario NDP MPP Laura Mae Lindo.
“It’s the police discretion, that’s the language that they’ve used and that is actually how one opens up a huge pathway to racial discrimination. You’ve got to remove the subjectivity of that interaction,” she told the show.
Andre Picard, a health columnist for the Globe and Mail, agrees that ticketing people for pandemic-related infractions should be a “last resort,” but argues that fines are among the only enforcement options available.
“It’s hard to enforce rules that are wishy-washy, and I think that’s always been our biggest problem,” said Picard, who lauded Australian officials for using specific language to define infractions.
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Tennis player complaints about quarantine conditions land with a thud Down Under
Australia has generally had more success in limiting the spread of COVID-19 than most developed countries, but attempts to host its signature tennis tournament in Melbourne have left some testy.
Four more Australian Open participants, including one player, have been recorded with COVID-19 infections and more cases may come to light as testing continues, tournament officials said on Monday. Health authorities in the state of Victoria have now reported nine infections among passengers that arrived in Melbourne on charter flights for the Feb. 8-21 Australian Open.
“All four are associated with the tennis, and they’re all tucked away safely in hotel quarantine,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters of the new cases.
Passengers on three Australian Open charter flights have been sent into hard quarantine, including more than 70 players who are unable to train for 14 days ahead of the year’s first Grand Slam. Canada’s Vasek Pospisil as well as Bianca Andreescu’s coach, Sylvain Bruneau, are among those being quarantined because of their presence on affected flights.
“Not the best prep right before [a] Slam but will try [to] make the most of it,” Pospisil said on social media, but other players haven’t been as sanguine.
A television report featuring the objections of some players to their quarantine conditions and provided meals has led to world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and others being told to “check their privilege.” Outspoken Aussie player Nick Kyrgios went further, calling Djokovic — who previously drew criticism for organizing a poorly planned event earlier in the pandemic — “a tool.”
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