Ontario announced Thursday it is speeding up booster shots for education workers, providing N95 masks to those working in child care, and amending rules for who is eligible for rapid testing antigen.
Starting Friday, education and child care staff in the Greater Toronto Area can book priority shots at the Mississauga International Center. The province says other clinics will be set up “urgently” in Ontario, in addition to existing clinics in Toronto and Ottawa which already have dedicated access for such staff.
Premier Doug Ford announced Monday that schools will return online for at least two weeks due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Daycares have remained open, although the children who attend them can no longer take the tests if they become ill.
The province also provided an update Thursday on how it will roll out faster antigen tests that are expected to arrive from the federal government soon.
You can read more about the province’s new quick test rules here.
At a press conference Thursday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr Kieran Moore said anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 should assume they are infected and should self-isolate.
“Testing is a luxury,” he said, adding that there is a global shortage of rapid tests.
Hospitalizations, ICU admissions soar
Meanwhile, hospitalizations and intensive care admissions of Ontarians with COVID-19 have both increased again
There were 2,279 people with the disease in hospitals, up from 2,081 the day before and a 136% increase from the same period last week. The pandemic peak of 2,360 hospitalizations occurred on April 20, 2021.
Likewise, there were 319 people with COVID-19 in intensive care units. This is an increase from 288 patients the day before and 119 more than last Thursday, when 200 needed intensive care. According to Critical Care Services Ontario, 53 more adults were admitted to intensive care on Wednesday.
The province said it would soon begin publishing data that differentiates patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19, and those who test positive for the virus while in hospital for unrelated reasons. On Wednesday evening, the Department of Health told CBC News that data collection from hospitals for the initiative began last week and that public reporting “will likely begin in the near future.”
The Ministry of Health has also recorded the deaths of 20 more people with COVID-19, the highest number in a single day since June 2021. The official death toll in Ontario now stands at 10,272. of Toronto confirmed this morning that a child under the age of four recently died with COVID-19 in the city.
The province reported at least 13,339 new cases of COVID-19 today. As Ontario recently changed its guidelines to drastically limit who is eligible for a PCR test, the total number of cases for today is likely a drastic underestimate of the actual situation. Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table estimates that about one in five cases is currently confirmed by the province’s testing regime.
For the 59,241 tests performed, Public Health Ontario reported a positivity rate of 29.2%. This is the ninth day in a row that the positivity rates are above 25%. Almost 100,000 additional test samples are awaiting completion.
According to Ontario’s Minister of Long-Term Care, COVID-19 outbreaks are hitting homes in nearly every public health unit, with staff absences between 20 and 30% in some areas. Rod Phillips said there are currently reported outbreaks in 186 homes in 30 of the province’s 34 public health units.
He said he expects the number to continue to rise with the highly contagious variant of Omicron spreading in communities at record levels.
Staff absence rates vary from 20 to 30 percent in some of the hardest hit areas and the ministry is in daily contact with struggling households, he added.
According to data from Public Health Ontario, there are also outbreaks in 118 nursing homes, 110 hospitals – by far a pandemic peak – and 178 educational and child care facilities.
Hospitals urge pregnant Ontarians to get immunized
A group of Ontario hospitals is urging anyone who is pregnant to get vaccinated against COVID-19, citing recent hospitalizations of infants due to the disease.
The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the McMaster Children’s Hospital, CHEO, the Ottawa Regional Children’s Hospital and the Kingston Health Sciences Center issued a joint statement on the matter on Wednesday.
“Nobody wants their little one to be sick in the hospital, let alone for COVID-19,” the statement said. “For this reason, as well as for the health of the pregnant person, we encourage anyone who is pregnant and eligible for vaccination – as well as all eligible members of their household – to be vaccinated. “
The group said six babies under 12 months old have been admitted to institutions in Hamilton and Ottawa due to COVID-19 since mid-December.
“Before that, it was rare for an infant to be hospitalized with a COVID-19 infection,” the statement said.
All infants admitted to CHEO in Ottawa had unvaccinated mothers, the statement said.
The hospital group said infants’ immune systems have difficulty fighting off the disease, especially without maternal antibodies transferred during pregnancy from the vaccination.
Their statement cited research from the Ottawa Children’s Hospital that showed no adverse pregnancy outcomes in Ontario from COVID-19 vaccines. Despite this, the group said immunization coverage remained lower among pregnant women than in the general population.
“We strongly support ongoing efforts to better understand the reasons why some pregnant people are not vaccinated; this could help inform education approaches tailored to the needs of specific communities,” the statement added. He also said pregnant women should contact health care providers with any questions or concerns about the vaccination.
The hospitals call came as the highly contagious variant of Omicron prompted stricter province-wide public health measures aimed at slowing infections and hospitalizations.
Officials said the unprecedented number of infections was leading to staff shortages in key sectors, including healthcare. But public health has acknowledged that the full picture of the virus’s spread is not known as testing is now limited to people considered to be at high risk of infection.
According to the latest provincial data, two children under the age of five have died from COVID-19 in Ontario in the past three weeks. It also shows that 38 Ontario children of the same age were hospitalized with the virus during the same period.
Children under five are the only age group currently ineligible for COVID-19 vaccination.
Vaccination of children aged 5 to 11 began in November. As of Wednesday, this demographic had the lowest vaccination rate in the province, with 44.5% receiving the first doses and 2% with both vaccines.