Ontario to deploy internationally trained nurses to hospitals as COVID-19 ICU admissions hit 477

·4 min read
Ontario's health-care has fallen under increasing strain in recent weeks, with COVID-19 demands and staffing shortages resulting in significant burnout among staff. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Ontario's health-care has fallen under increasing strain in recent weeks, with COVID-19 demands and staffing shortages resulting in significant burnout among staff. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Ontario reported a new high of 3,220 patients in hospital with COVID-19 on Tuesday, while Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province would deploy internationally trained nurses to health-care settings strained by staffing shortages.

Of the patients hospitalized with COVID-19, 54 per cent were admitted to hospital seeking treatment for COVID-19, while 46 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have tested positive for the illness, according to new dataset from the Ministry of Health. That data does not list a breakdown for previous waves of the virus for comparison.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has risen from 1,290 patients on the same day last week.

As of Tuesday, there are 477 people with COVID-19 in ICUs. That's a jump from 438 patients the day before and up from 266 one week ago.

Approximately 83 per cent were admitted to the ICU seeking treatment for COVID-19 and 17 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have tested positive for the illness, according to the dataset.

COVID-19 patients in Ontario hospitals and ICUs

80 adults admitted to ICU, a single-day high: CCSO

According to Critical Care Services Ontario, 80 more adults were admitted to ICU for COVID-related illnesses on Monday, the most ever on a single day during the pandemic.

"We are seeing a historic moment here," said Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association in an interview with CBC News Network.

"And these hospitals are doing everything they can to care for these patients, both COVID and non-COVID related."

WATCH | Ontario Hospital Association spokesperson on current situation in the province:

Meanwhile, at a news conference Tuesday, Elliott said the province is collaborating with Ontario Health and the Colleges of Nurses of Ontario to deploy internationally trained nurses to hospitals and some long-term care settings.

She said that so far 1,200 applicants had expressed interest in the program and that the matching process with hospitals would begin later this week. Participants will have the opportunity to become permanent staff.

Meanwhile, Ontario Health CEO Matthew Anderson says an estimated 300 nurses will likely be able to start work as early as this week at some of the 50 hospitals identified as in need of workforce support.

The province's health-care system has been under growing strain in recent weeks due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which has also caused staffing shortages across several sectors.

Elliott said 600 ICU beds remain available today, and that Ontario has the ability to add nearly 500 additional beds if required. She did not elaborate on how the province would provide the specialized personnel to staff those beds if they are needed.

Early data suggests on average patients admitted to ICU with the Omicron variant require about seven days of acute care, compared to the average of 20 days associated with cases caused by the Delta variant.

Elliott was also pressed by reporters about the province's plan to have students return to school for in-person classes next Monday. Asked about what health indicators were being used to make the decision, Elliott did not answer directly. Though she did say that the two-week delay announced earlier this month provided time to give educators second doses of COVID-19 vaccines and ship more N95 masks to school boards.

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New government guidance circulated on Tuesday said COVID-19 tests will be given to Ontario students and school staff under only limited circumstances when in-person classes resume next week.

The document says only those who become symptomatic while at school will be eligible for a take-home testing kit. Eligibility will also depend on what symptoms, and how many, the person is experiencing.

Moreover, schools will no longer routinely notify students and their families if they're exposed to a positive case, or if someone is absent due to COVID-19 symptoms.

21 more COVID-linked deaths

Ontario reported at least 7,951 new cases of the virus Tuesday.

As the province recently changed its guidelines to significantly limit who qualifies for a PCR test, the case total for today is likely a drastic undercount of the real situation. Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table estimates that roughly one in five cases are currently being confirmed by the province's testing regime.

For the 45,451 tests that were completed, Public Health Ontario reported a positivity rate of 24.4 per cent.

The health ministry this morning also recorded the deaths of 21 more people with COVID-19, pushing Ontario's official toll to 10,399.

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