A top doctor at Hamilton General says although the number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital are dropping, he still figures it could be months before the facility will be able to return to pre-pandemic surgical volumes.
Dr. Craig Ainsworth, director of the cardiac care unit at Hamilton General Hospital, told 900 CHML’s Hamilton Today that Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) is still only operating at 50 to 60 per cent of surgical activity levels which will delay some non-urgent and non-emergent services.
“It would be silly for me to say we’ll be back at 100 per cent by tomorrow or next week, but we’re trying very hard to get to get there as fast as we can, but it’s likely going to be months,” said Ainsworth.
As of Wednesday, Hamilton’s hospital networks have a combined 100 COVID patients with 15 in ICUs, a marked improvement from a week ago when hospitalizations were 178 with 24 in city ICUs.
In mid-January, HHS and St. Joseph’s had a total of 300 patients and 38 in ICUs.
HHS’ adult ICU occupancy is at 82 per cent as of Feb. 16 while St. Joe’s is at 102.
St. Joe’s is the only one of the two networks with ongoing outbreaks as of Tuesday. The surge is at the Womankind addiction facility and involves just four patients.
Ontario reported 1,403 people in hospital with COVID-19 on Feb. 16, with 364 in intensive care units.
The networks have not reported any further patient transfers to other facilities across Ontario this past week. The city’s system has had 31 relocations over the last month due to high occupancy.
Transfers represent the difference between previous waves of the pandemic and the wave fueled by the Omicron variant with the Hamilton-area having higher incident rates compared to other Ontario regions, according to Ainsworth.
“In the previous waves, Hamilton and the region seemed to be in a bit of a bubble … many of the patients we were looking after were transfers from the GTA as an example,” Ainsworth said.
“But this wave hit our region a little more severely than most other places in Ontario … our hospitals were disproportionately full of COVID patients compared to the rest of the provincial numbers.”
The recent decline in COVID-19-related hospitalizations and intensive care admissions prompted the province’s chief medical officer to lift Directive 2 – an initiative issued last month ordering hospitals to pause non-urgent and non-emergent surgeries and procedures.
The outline reactivated some hospital services such as diagnostic imaging, cancer screening, scheduled ambulatory care and non-urgent/emergent pediatric care.
However, HHS executives opted to continue their pause on a number of a services until it’s hospitals can redeploy staff to reach 75 per cent surgical activity while maintaining urgent and emergent care.
Another positive sign for local hospitals is the number of staff off work isolating for COVID which was as high as 600 in mid-January.
“Now we’re sort of in the in the 100 or 200 range, which is way better,” said Ainsworth.
Hamilton down to just 10 confirmed institutional outbreaks
As of Wednesday, Hamilton only has about a third of the confirmed outbreaks reported across the city a week ago.
Public health is reporting just 10 with one suspected surge at the Good Shepard Men’s Centre involving a single case.
Seven days ago, the city had 34 involving more than 1,000 total cases.
Seniors homes still represent the largest group carrying outbreak cases in Hamilton as of Feb. 16 — 188 from four surges.
That’s also significantly lower than the 14 outbreaks reported last week when there were 14 tied to close to 700 cases.
One of the largest reported outbreaks of 2022 so far, at Heritage Green nursing home, was declared over on Tuesday after amassing 119 total cases over a seven-week surge.
Vaccine campaign expands to include booster doses for ages 12 through 17
Ontario will lift more COVID-19 capacity restrictions on Thursday increasing gathering allowances and removing capacity limits where proof of vaccination is required, including restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments without dance facilities.
The move is largely due to decreasing COVID hospitalizations in the province coupled with a two-shot vaccination rate of at least 90 per cent for eligible residents aged 12-plus.
Hamilton’s vaccination program has not yet reached that target but does have 90 per cent first dose coverage for people aged 12 and older. Second dose coverage is at 87.6 per cent as of Tuesday.
The numbers equate to about 1.2 million first doses administered with about 464,000 second doses and 279,000 third shots.
Close to 82.9 per cent of eligible Hamiltonians aged five and up have had a pair of doses, while 87 per cent have gotten at least one shot.
Excluding kids aged five to 11, Hamiltonians in the 12-to-17 age group represent the lowest vaccination rates of those eligible in all communities.
Just over 81 per cent of youth in that age group have had two shots and only about two per cent have had third doses.
More than 10,000 second doses have been given among the city’s five- to 11-year-olds, equating to 26 per cent coverage. Second doses now account for the vast majority of daily doses administered to the five-to-11 population.
The province’s rate of second doses in the age group is at 24.2 per cent.
Hamilton is slightly behind the provincial average in first doses for those aged five to 11 — 51 per cent compared to Ontario’s 54 per cent.
Public health clinics across the city have also now opened up for walk-ins among the youth population and will be expanding to third doses for youth aged 12 to 17 on Friday.
Youth in that group can receive a booster dose approximately six months (168 days) after their second.
Fourth dose clinics for residents in retirement homes have now been completed, according to public heath. Onboarded settings, including long-term care homes, are expected to have clinics completed in the coming weeks.
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