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Ontario reports nearly 1,200 new coronavirus cases, six more deaths – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Ontario is reporting nearly 1,200 new cases of COVID-19 today as the rolling seven-day average of new infections continues to rise in the province.

Provincial health officials logged 1,185 new cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus today and another six deaths.

Today’s tally is down from the 1,631 new infections reported on Monday, although the province said yesterday’s case count was inflated due to a data reporting issue. The Ministry of Health did not disclose how many of Monday’s cases should have been included in previous totals.

The rolling seven-day average of new cases now stands at 1,187, up from 1,098 last week.

With 33,300 tests completed on Monday, today’s test positivity rate is now 3.7 per cent, a notable jump from 2.9 per cent one week ago.

Active cases are also on the rise in the province. There are now 11,223 active lab-confirmed infections of COVID-19 in Ontario, up from 10,546 seven days ago.

According to the province, nearly 10 per cent of all active cases today involve primary and secondary school students.

For the third day in a row, none of the six virus-related deaths confirmed in Ontario today involve residents of long-term care. Despite the uptick in new cases over the past week, the average number of virus-related deaths recorded per day has dropped to 12 today, down from 17 last Tuesday.

Of the new cases reported today, 343 are in Toronto, 235 are in Peel Region, and 105 are in York Region.

Virus-related hospitalizations are continuing to climb along with intensive care admissions. The number of people with COVID-19 who are receiving treatment in hospital is now 689, up from 677 last week. The province is reporting that there are now 290 patients with COVID-19 in the ICU, up from 284 last Tuesday.

Numbers released by individual local public health units indicate that there are now 834 COVID-19 patients in hospital.

Dr. Irfan Dhalla, a University of Toronto medical professor and vice-president at Unity Health Toronto, tweeted Tuesday that the number of patients with COVID-19 who are currently in the ICU is actually 344, an increase of 27 patients over the past 24 hours.

Speaking about the need to roll out vaccines to the most vulnerable groups as quickly as possible, Dr. Michael Warner, the medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital, told CP24 on Tuesday that he believes a third wave of the pandemic has already arrived in Ontario.

“Wave three, I believe, is upon us. ICU numbers are increased today. Case numbers are rising and a vaccination also buys people more freedom,” Warner said.

“So we need to make sure we prioritize the people who are most likely to get sick and die from COVID within Phase 2 (of the vaccination program) and make sure the people who could get COVID but almost certainly are going to survive are toward the end of the line so that we save the most lives.”

An estimated 943,533 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Ontario to date. Many municipalities have begun inoculating their oldest residents and on Monday, the City of Toronto confirmed that it will open three mass immunization clinics next week to begin vaccinating people in the community who are over the age of 80.

The province said another 29 cases of the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant, which was first discovered in the United Kingdom, have been confirmed through full genome sequencing, bringing the total number of cases of the variant in Ontario to 908. Thousands of other cases in the province have screened positive for a variant but have not yet been officially confirmed as one of the three main variants of concern circulating in Ontario. Officials have estimated that approximately 40 per cent of all new infections in Ontario are variant cases.

The numbers used in this story are found in the Ontario Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any city or region may differ slightly from what is reported by the province, because local units report figures at different times.

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Ontario hospitals may have to withhold care as COVID-19 fills ICUs

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By Allison Martell and Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Doctors in the Canadian province of Ontario may soon have to decide who can and cannot receive treatment in intensive care as the number of coronavirus infections sets records and patients are packed into hospitals still stretched from a December wave.

Canada‘s most populous province is canceling elective surgeries, admitting adults to a major children’s hospital and preparing field hospitals after the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs jumped 31% to 612 in the week leading up to Sunday, according to data from the Ontario Hospital Association.

The sharp increase in Ontario hospital admissions is also straining supplies of tocilizumab, a drug often given to people seriously ill with COVID-19.

Hospital care is publicly funded in Canada, generally free at the point of care for residents. But new hospital beds have not kept pace with population growth, and shortages of staff and space often emerge during bad flu seasons.

Ontario’s hospitals fared relatively well during the first wave of the pandemic last year, in part because the province quickly canceled elective surgeries.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario told doctors last Thursday that the province was considering “enacting the critical care triage protocol,” something that was not done during earlier waves of the virus. Triage protocols help doctors decide who to treat in a crisis.

“Everybody’s under extreme stress,” said Eddy Fan, an ICU doctor at Toronto’s University Health Network. He said no doctor wants to contemplate a triage protocol but there are only so many staff.

“There’s going to be a breaking point, a point at which we can’t fill those gaps any longer.”

In a statement, the health ministry said Ontario has not activated the protocol. A September draft suggested doctors could withhold life-sustaining care from patients with a less than 20% chance of surviving 12 months. A final version has not been made public.

Ontario’s Science Advisory Table had been forecasting the surge for months, said member and critical care physician Laveena Munshi. During a recent shift she wanted to call the son of a patient only to discover he was in an ICU across the street.

“The horror stories that we’re seeing in the hospital are like ones out of apocalyptic movies,” she said. “They’re not supposed to be the reality we’re seeing one year into a pandemic.”

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In COVID-19 vaccination pivot, Canada targets frontline workers

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By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada is shifting its vaccination campaign to target frontline workers, moving away from a largely age-based rollout as the country tries to get a handle on the raging third wave of the pandemic.

Canada‘s approach thus far has left unvaccinated many so-called “essential workers,” like daycare providers, bus drivers and meatpackers, all of whom are among those at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission. Provinces are now trying to adjust their strategy to tackle the surge driven by new variants.

Targeting frontline workers and addressing occupation risk is vital if Canada wants to get its third wave under control, says Simon Fraser University mathematician and epidemiologist Caroline Colijn, who has modelled Canadian immunization strategies and found “the sooner you put essential workers [in the vaccine rollout plan], the better.”

Initially, Canada prioritized long-term care residents and staff for the vaccines, as well as the very elderly, health workers, residents of remote communities and Indigenous people.

Targeting vaccinations by age made sense early on in a pandemic that ravaged Canada‘s long-term care homes, Colijn said. But now, immunizing those at highest risk of transmission brings the greatest benefit.

“If you protect these individuals you also protect someone in their 60s whose only risk is when they go to the store. … The variants are here now. So if we pivot now, but it takes us two months to do it, then we will lose that race.”

Data released on Tuesday from the Institute of Clinical and Evaluative Sciences showed that Toronto’s neighbourhoods with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections had the lowest vaccination rates, underscoring the disparities in vaccination.

‘IT’S A JUGGERNAUT’

On Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a plan to have mobile vaccine clinics target COVID-19 “hotspots” and high-risk worksites, although he stopped short of giving people paid time off to get the shot.

Karim Kurji, medical officer of health in York Region north of Toronto, characterizes the shift in vaccination priority from age to transmission risk as moving from defence to offence.

“It’s a juggernaut in terms of the immunization machinery, and turning it around takes a lot of effort,” Kurji said.

Meanwhile, officials in the western province of Alberta say they are offering vaccines to more than 2,000 workers at Cargill’s meatpacking plant in High River, site of one of Canada‘s largest workplace COVID-19 outbreaks. Provincial officials said in a statement they are looking to expand the pilot to other plants.

Quebec will start vaccinating essential workers such as those in education, childcare and public safety in Montreal, where neighbourhoods with the highest vaccination rates have been among those with the lowest recorded infection rates.

The people doing the highest-risk jobs, from an infectious disease perspective, are more likely to be poor, non-white and new Canadians, health experts say. They are less likely to have paid leave to get tested or vaccinated or stay home when sick and are more likely to live in crowded or multi-unit housing. They need to be prioritized for vaccination and their vaccination barriers addressed, experts say.

Naheed Dosani, a Toronto palliative care physician and health justice activist, said making vaccines available to high-risk communities is not enough without addressing barriers to access.

“The face of COVID-19 and who was being impacted changed dramatically. The variants seemed to take hold in communities where essential workers live. … This [pivot] is a step in the right direction and will hopefully save lives.”

 

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Denny Thomas and Aurora Ellis)

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Canada finance minister: Pandemic an opportunity to bring in national childcare

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OTTAWA (Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic and its damaging impact on women has underlined the need for a national childcare plan, which would also help the economic recovery, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Thursday.

Since taking up her job in August, Freeland has repeatedly spoken about a “feminist agenda,” and has said childcare will be part of a stimulus package worth up to C$100 billion ($79.6 billion) over three years. She will unveil details in her April 19 budget.

“I really believe COVID-19 has created a window of political opportunity and maybe an epiphany … on the importance of early learning and childcare,” Freeland told a online convention of Canada‘s ruling Liberal Party.

The budget is set to be a springboard for an election that Liberal insiders say is likely in the second half of the year.

Canadian governments of various stripes have mused about a national childcare program for decades but never acted, thanks in part to the cost and also the need to negotiate with the 10 provinces, which deliver many social programs.

Freeland said a childcare program would help counter “an incredibly dangerous drop” in female employment since the start of the pandemic.

“It is a surefire way to drive jobs and economic growth … you have higher participation of women in the labor force,” Freeland said. “My hope … is that being able to make that economic argument as well is going be to one of the ways that we get this done.”

Freeland, who is taking part this week in meetings of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations and the International Monetary Fund, said U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had told her they saw early learning and child care as a driver for economic recovery.

($1=1.2560 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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