Ontario ICU doctors write letter to Ford government over COVID-19 variants, warn more measures needed

WATCH ABOVE: Ontario ICUs have their highest number of COVID-19 critical care patients since the pandemic began and new numbers show the demographic is much younger. Kamil Karamali reports.

A group of Ontario’s ICU doctors and physicians have written an open letter to Premier Doug Ford’s government calling for new and different public health measures to curb COVID-19 variant spread.

They write that Ontario is at a “critical point in the pandemic.”

“We are being led down a very dangerous path by using ICU capacity as a benchmark for tolerance of COVID-19 spread,” the letter reads. “We do not agree with this approach and believe new public health measures are required immediately in order to regain control of the pandemic and save lives.”

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The letter, signed by more than 150 physicians, also indicates the growth of VOCs (variants of concern) in the province is exponential.

“This matters because VOCs spread more easily, creating rapid growth, which becomes much harder to get back under control. In addition, each person who gets infected has a higher chance of hospitalization, ICU admission, and death.”

A report published earlier this week from Ontario’s COVID-19 science table said the new variants of concern now account for 67 per cent of all cases in the province, as case counts climb over 2,000 new cases a day.

Dr. Peter Juni, the table’s scientific director and a professor of medicine and epidemiology with the University of Toronto, said the new variants account for up to 1,700 of the daily cases right now and they double every 11 days.

VOCs in regards to hospitalizations.

VOCs in regards to hospitalizations.

Ontario government

The doctors also said in letter that they are seeing younger people on ventilators, including parents of school-aged children. They said they are seeing entire families end up in their ICUs.

The letter goes on to explain that even with unlimited ICU capacity, allowing VOCs to spread is “unethical.”

“About 4 in 10 patients who come to the ICU with COVID will die.”

“More than half of patients requiring mechanical ventilation due to COVID will die,” the letter reads. “Patients who survive a prolonged ICU admission and are discharged home can have significant long-term impacts on physical or cognitive function.”

The letter also highlights that the virus impact has been “disproportionate, infecting those with highest exposure risk, commonly from lower income and racialized communities.”

“The current measures and framework are not working to contain the spread of this virus,” the doctors wrote.

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Increasing number of patients in ICUs also affects the healthcare system as staff and space will be taken away from other crucial but non-emergency services such as surgery, endoscopy, cardiology and diagnostic imaging, the letter said.

“The surgical backlog will take years to overcome. Early-stage cancers will be missed.”

The letter also said if ICU capacity gets worse, the hospital system could be forced to triage the critically ill, “deciding who gets ICU care and a chance to survive, and who receives palliative care and dies.”

On Wednesday, the Ontario Hospital Association’s president said the number of patients in ICUs due to COVID-19 illness for the third wave has surpassed the first and second waves.

Premier Doug Ford has a scheduled announcement at 1:30 p.m. Thursday that is expected to reveal the details of a four-week province-wide “emergency brake” due to rising COVID-19 cases and hospital ICU admissions.

— With files from Jessica Patton

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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