Some provinces are easing COVID-19 restrictions. Here’s why – National
Canada’s top doctors said on Friday that the Omicron wave of COVID-19 may have peaked in Canada and some provinces across the country are already moving forward with easing restrictions based on key measures, like the hospitalizations and intensive care admissions that are driving reopening plans.
Earlier this week, Ontario public health officials said they noted improving Omicron wave trends, leading the provincial government to announce the easing of some COVID-19 restrictions on certain businesses – including restaurants and gymnasiums – from the end of January.
In a COVID-19 update on Wednesday, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province of Ontario is starting to see “glimmers of hope” in its fight against the Omicron variant.
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Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said in the same update that the rate of hospitalizations and cases in the intensive care unit were increasing but at a much slower rate.
On Friday, Ontario reported 4,114 people hospitalized with COVID on Friday, including 590 in intensive care units. As of Friday, hospitalizations stood at 3,814, with the number of people in intensive care at 527.
In an email to Global News on Thursday, an Ontario government spokesperson said the province is looking closely at hospitalizations and intensive care admissions as some of the key metrics when deciding whether to move forward. with the easing of restrictions.
“We knew that many healthcare workers are absent because they themselves have contracted COVID-19… but we are starting to see this number stabilize and we are able to provide care despite 100% occupancy in some of our facilities,” the email reads, quoting Dr. Moore.
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Other metrics under review included the number of people tested for COVID-19 and the number of outbreaks, particularly in long-term care sectors.
Like Ontario, the province of British Columbia also announced the easing of some COVID restrictions earlier this week. Based on modeling data released Jan. 14, the province has made the decision to reopen gyms and exercise facilities with capacity limits and continued use of the BC vaccination card from of January 20, said British Columbia’s top health official, Dr. Bonnie Henry.
The number of cases as well as the positivity rate look set to drop in British Columbia, according to the data.
However, the number of people admitted to hospital with COVID is expected to increase.
“Our modeling shows that between January 15 and January 22 we expect the peak in hospital admissions,” Henry said last week.
British Columbia reported 15 more COVID-19 deaths on Thursday as it saw the number of hospital cases drop for the first time in more than two weeks.
A British Columbia spokesperson also said in an email that the metrics they use in decision-making are case counts, vaccination rates, hospitalizations, outbreaks and clusters.
Are these measures sufficient to ease the restrictions?
A professor at the University of Toronto’s faculty of pharmacy, Zubin Austin, argued that many of these decisions only focus on one part of the health care system – and it’s mostly units. intensive care in hospitals – and not enough on other parts of the system.
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“We have to be concerned about the whole health care system which includes things like long-term care facilities, primary care, and family physicians’ offices,” Austin said.
“There are so many other parts [of the system] who are extraordinarily overwhelmed. So as we base our decisions on reopening, we also need to consider these sectors,” he added.
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Austin spoke to Global News from Fort Erie, a small town in Ontario, and he said the town’s only urgent care center had closed due to staff shortages and the redeployment of the health workers in hospitals.
“I don’t think you should reopen the economy until there are enough healthcare workers to reopen my urgent care center here…and until urgent care can reopen in other small communities, I think we should be a lot more careful than we are being in terms of reopening the economy in general,” Austin said.
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Similarly, Dr. Peter Juni of the Ontario Science Advisory Table on COVID-19 said it’s not just sectors of the health care system that are struggling, but all sectors of the economy and that ‘it is not enough to base reopening decisions solely on the decline in hospitalizations and intensive care. Numbers.
“We have to hold on…we just have to keep controlling this wave as well as we can and just be a bit pragmatic at the moment. Nothing will be ideal, but that’s just the nature of the Omicron wave,” Juni said.
Juni also pointed out that there is a lack of data to support Ontario’s decision to ease restrictions. Hospitals remain in lockdown and schools have only recently resumed in-person learning, he said.
He explained that while Ontario expects to plateau in terms of hospital and intensive care occupancy, there has still not been a decrease in the number of hospitalizations.
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“We will now have to wait until next week… to see the number of people in intensive care and if there is a slight downward trend. It will be important,” Juni said.
Austin also said he was worried about what opening schools would do in terms of the number of transmissions.
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Educators and students returned to Ontario classrooms this week, while students and staff in British Columbia resumed in-person learning with enhanced safety measures in place earlier in January .
“We are likely to see a slight increase in infection rates now that schools are open. But I think optimistically that we won’t necessarily see that translate into ICU admissions,” Austin said.
“But we are going to see it translate into increased demand for primary and urgent care,” he added.
— with files from Amy Judd, Richard Zussman, Ryan Rocca, Hannah Jackson.
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