With COVID-19 cases still rising and hospitals nearing capacity, intensive-care doctors in Quebec and Ontario are bracing for the worst, as they start to see the impact of people flouting pandemic rules during the holidays.
Michael Warner, medical director of critical care at Toronto’s Michael Garron Hospital, said he expects a bad situation to get worse in coming weeks. His hospital has started seeing an increase in COVID-19 patients linked to holiday gatherings.
Dr. Warner said the first wave of the pandemic, and part of the second, affected largely racialized and marginalized people, essential workers and those who didn’t have the ability to self-isolate.
“What we have now is people with privilege who think that they are somehow different, and rationalize to themselves that it’s okay that they get together over the holidays with one, two, four, five people because they deserve it,” he said. “What has happened is now those people are getting COVID-19.”
François Marquis, head of intensive care at Montreal’s Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, said that out of nine patients recently admitted to his ICU, seven admitted to breaking lockdown rules during the holidays, one wouldn’t say and only one caught it while in hospital.
“What we thought was unfathomable, having triage as they had in Italy or in New York, it’s not science fiction for Canada, and even less so for Quebec and the Montreal area,” Dr. Marquis said. “The next few weeks will be decisive.”
He said hospitals are on the edge of being overwhelmed. “All it will take is one major outbreak in one of Montreal’s main hospitals for things to derail.”
Mathieu Simon, head of intensive care at Laval University’s Heart and Lung Institute, a specialized cardiopulmonary hospital in Quebec City, also saw cases caused by the failure to heed pandemic restrictions.
“Often when they arrive they are no longer in shape to admit anything because they are intubated but some relatives make an act of contrition and say they did get together to play cards or for a family gathering. It’s not big things; it doesn’t take three-day raves. It’s stuff that used to be considered mundane.”
In Ontario, capacity for adults in acute care hospitals is at 85 per cent, ICU beds are at 78 per cent and baseline ventilator beds are already at or over 100 per cent, according to the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA).