TORONTO — Ontario is considering additional restrictions to combat a surge in COVID-19 cases, Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday as he warned people against making plans for Easter weekend.
Ford would not specify what new measures his government is considering but said he’ll consult the province’s top doctor before making a decision.
“Everything’s on the table right now, so folks be prepared,” he said. “I’m asking you, don’t make plans for Easter. … I won’t hesitate to lock things down.”
Ford’s comments came hours after Ontario’s hospitals and science advisors warned that intensive care units in the province’s hospitals were facing a capacity crunch.
The province reported 2,336 new cases and 14 deaths on Tuesday, with 1,090 people hospitalized, 387 in intensive care, and 249 placed on a ventilator.
Late Monday, the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory group published a report that showed virus variants were sending more Ontarians to intensive care units.
It also showed that people infected with COVID-19 variants are more likely to be hospitalized and die, placing a “considerably higher burden” on the health-care system than during the second wave of infections.
The report looked at 26,314 people who tested positive for COVID-19 in Ontario between Feb. 7 and March 11.
More than 9,000 of them were infected with a variant of concern, and the study found those patients were 62 per cent more likely to be hospitalized, 114 per cent more likely to end up in an intensive care unit and 40 per cent more likely to die from the virus.
The report noted that as of March 28, more infectious variants of concern accounted for 67 per cent of all infections, and the variant known as B.1.1.7 that was first detected in the U.K. makes up 90 per cent of variant cases.
The study also found that 46 per cent of intensive care admissions between March 15 and March 21 were people aged 59 and younger, compared with 30 per cent of admissions between Dec. 14 and Dec. 20.
Researchers flagged that risk of severe outcomes from a COVID-19 variant infection is pronounced 14 to 28 days after infection, “which in turn will result in delays until the full burden to the health-care system becomes apparent.”
The president of the Ontario Hospital Association said 46 patients were admitted to intensive care on Monday – the highest one-day number of admissions in the second and third wave.
Anthony Dale said if the trend continues, patient transfers will be running “24-7” to ensure they receive life-saving care and more surgeries will be cancelled, adding to the current backlog of 250,000 procedures.
“I am very concerned about the breakdown in social cohesion and the understanding of the risk and the sacrifice that is still needed to get us all through this safely together and without unnecessary death and harm and further massive disruption to hospital care,” Dale said.
Ornge, the province’s air ambulance service, said Monday that between Jan. 1 and March 25, at least 601 patients were transferred to different hospitals to help address the pandemic capacity crunch.
Meanwhile, vaccine supply shortage forced a public health unit in a COVID-19 hot spot to close three vaccination clinics. York Region said the clinics – including the Canada’s Wonderland site that opened Monday – would close from April 2 to 5 due to delayed Moderna vaccine shipments.
Premier Ford blamed the shortage issue on the federal government.
“We’re putting these mass vaccination centers up, a ton of effort, a ton of resources, a ton of people going there, and all of a sudden, bang, now we have to close it down again, up at Wonderland,” he said in the legislature on Tuesday.
“When can we count on a consistent volume of vaccines from the federal government? That’s what it comes down to.”
Ontario received 466,830 Pfizer-BioNTech doses on Monday, and the government said a delayed shipment of 225,400 Moderna doses is expected on April 7.
It is also expecting 583,400 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from a shipment that arrived in Canada on Tuesday and is awaiting federal approval to be released to the province. Those doses will be distributed through pharmacies and primary care offices.
Halton and York Regions, two other Greater Toronto Area health unit, announced Tuesday they would move ahead with offering vaccinations to people aged 65 and older starting March 31, ahead of the provincial schedule.
In total, the province has so far administered 2,102,380 COVID-19 vaccine doses.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2021.
Shawn Jeffords and Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press
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U.S. will accept mixed doses of vaccines from international travelers
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said late on Friday that it will accept mixed-dose coronavirus vaccines from international travelers, a boost to travelers from Canada and other places.
The CDC said last week that it would accept any vaccine authorized for use by U.S. regulators or the World Health Organization. “While CDC has not recommended mixing types of vaccine in a primary series, we recognize that this is increasingly common in other countries so should be accepted for the interpretation of vaccine records,” a CDC spokeswoman said.
The White House said Friday the new vaccine requirements for foreign nationals traveling to the United States will begin Nov. 8 for visitors crossing at land borders as well as international air travelers.
Representative Brian Higgins, a New York Democrat representing a district along the Canadian border, had on Friday asked the CDC if it would accept the mixed vaccine doses noting “nearly four million Canadians, equivalent to 10% of their fully vaccinated population, have received mixed doses of the available mRNA COVID-19 vaccines – this includes the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
The CDC said the vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use, as well as those authorized by the WHO, will be accepted for entry into the United States, including the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The CDC said “individuals who have any combination of two doses of an FDA approved/authorized or WHO emergency use listed COVID-19 two-dose series are considered fully vaccinated.”
The CDC plans to answer other questions and release a contact tracing order for international air visitors by Oct. 25.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler and Aurora Ellis)
Transplant programs reviewing policy on recipients being vaccinated against COVID-19 – Squamish Chief
Transplant centres in Western Canada have stopped short of requiring organ recipients to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but they say conversations about such a policy are ongoing.
Some centres in other parts of the country, including Ontario, are requiring proof of vaccination before a patient is approved for the life-saving surgery.
BC Transplant, located in Vancouver, said COVID-19 vaccination is not required to be eligible for a transplant, but programs in the province are actively reviewing it.
“The transplant programs are strongly encouraging all pre-transplant patients to be vaccinated against COVID-19, as they do with many other vaccine-preventable infections,” the agency said in a statement.
Similarly, Alberta Health Services told The Canadian Press it has long been a requirement that patients preparing for transplant have all vaccines to help maximize their chances of success post-transplant. It notes, however, it’s only a practice guideline at this point.
Saskatchewan has also not made any changes.
“Saskatchewan’s organ transplant teams are strongly supportive of all recipients and donors having COVID vaccinations, and the issue of requiring these vaccinations in recipients is actively being discussed,” Lisa Thomson, a spokeswoman for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said in a statement.
The Ajmera Transplant Centre at Toronto’s University Health Network recently announced its decision to implement a policy that requires patients who may benefit from receiving a transplant be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before they are listed for solid organ transplant.
However, there may be exemptions for medical reasons or in cases of urgent need of a transplant.
“We all recognize that (COVID-19) is a massive, massive risk factor. The prudent and ethical thing to do to protect patients and to protect each other, and show fidelity and respect to those organ donors, is to require this (policy) to be a price of pass and go,” UHN president and chief executive officer Kevin Smith said in an interview.
The decision to enact the policy is based on a few factors, according to the organization.
It said transplant patients are severely immunocompromised because of lifelong treatment to prevent rejection of a new organ. If someone who is immunocompromised gets COVID-19, they are at a very high risk of being hospitalized or placed on ventilation.
Unvaccinated recipients could also pose a risk to other patients post-surgery. Transplant recipients have high health needs after their transplants and require frequent visits to a hospital. These individuals may pose a greater risk of spreading illness, should they get infected, to other immunocompromised patients in an inpatient or outpatient setting.
“Thinking about an outbreak in an environment like that would be just a massacre,” Smith said.
Infectious disease experts noted this type of policy isn’t new.
“There’s just requirements pre-transplant in order to be eligible for listing. Some of it is complying with some of the medical measures to see if patients would be eligible,” said Dr. Dima Kabbani, an assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alberta.
Kabbani added pre-transplant vaccine recommendations are already in place for hepatitis B, pneumococcal disease and influenza.
Manitoba’s Shared Health said there is no requirement for Manitobans awaiting a transplant to be vaccinated for COVID-19, but noted patients may be required to show proof of vaccinationif there are requirements elsewhere.Kidney transplants are performed in the province while all other organ transplants take place in other provinces.
Jessica Bailey, 35, is living with stage five kidney disease and awaiting a transplant in Saskatoon.
The government has postponed surgeries as the province deals with a devastating fourth wave of COVID-19.
Bailey said she is not in favour of requiring recipients to be vaccinated against COVID-19. She said she is double vaccinated but believes recipients should still have the choice on whether they want the vaccine.
She does encourage patients who may be on the fence to look at the bigger picture.
“If you can get a transplant just by getting the vaccine, go and do it. Pick and choose your battles,” Bailey said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 15, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press
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