Waterloo region hospitals in 'full pandemic mode' as some patients sent to London

Hospitals in Waterloo region are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, St. Mary's General Hospital president Lee Fairclough says, meaning some are being moved to London. The Ontario region reported 35 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, a significant drop from recent days.

Hospitalizations up, though COVID-19 case numbers fall significantly on Friday

A man wearing a mask walks along King Street in downtown Kitchener, Ont., on Friday. The region reported 35 new cases, a significant drop from recent days. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

Patients are being moved from hospitals in Waterloo region to London as COVID-19 case numbers remain elevated in the Ontario community.

There were 35 new COVID-19 cases reported in the region Friday, a significant drop from recent days when cases have been in the 60s. It's the first time since June 8 that cases have been in the 30s.

There were 60 people in the region's hospitals, with 27 in the intensive-care unit.

Lee Fairclough, president of St. Mary's General Hospital in Kitchener, says the high number of COVID-19 patients means the hospitals can't do day surgeries they were hoping to have ramped back up at this point. The numbers are similar to what hospitals saw during the peak of the second wave.

"We are back in full pandemic mode," Fairclough said Friday during the region's weekly COVID-19 media briefing.

She noted that on Thursday, 23 per cent of patients admitted to hospital for COVID-19 in Ontario were at the three hospitals in Waterloo region.

"That's striking considering that we represent four per cent of the population in Ontario," she said.

Most new cases in unvaccinated people

There were 485 active cases reported on Friday in Waterloo region and no new deaths.

Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the region's medical officer of health, said that since May 1:

  • 76 per cent of confirmed COVID-19 cases have been among people who are unvaccinated.
  • 22 per cent are among people partially vaccinated or who have received two doses, but are not fully protected by the second dose.
  • 1.6 per cent of cases were in fully vaccinated people.

"Delta is spreading rapidly, mostly among the younger population, those 20-29, 30-39 and those under 18 years of age," Wang said.

As well, Wang noted that when it came to people hospitalized with COVID-19 since May 1:

  • 77.8 per cent were unvaccinated.
  • 20.6 per cent were people who were partially vaccinated or who have received two doses, but are not fully protected by the second dose.
  • 1.6 per cent were people who were fully vaccinated.

Multiple family members hospitalized

Both Wang and Fairclough reiterated that close contact has been the main reason for spread of the virus. In particular, they both mentioned people who gathered in groups for Mother's Day and near the end of May.

"What we have seen the last several weeks is we have seen multiple family members being admitted to hospital. We have seen people being admitted who have been at these types of gatherings," Fairclough said.

Lee Fairclough, president of St. Mary's General Hospital, holds out her hair during a COVID-19 media briefing on Friday to indicate that she, too, would like to get a haircut, but it's important for people to wait until it's safe for the region to reopen. (Region of Waterloo/YouTube)

Wang said a lot of the gatherings "led to a lot of spread and they infected other loved ones, family, friends. It's a very efficient mechanism of spread in the time of delta these gatherings and this is what we're seeing in our case rates. One case quickly turns to 15 or 20 because that case was having a gathering with their friends and family that wasn't recommended."

Variants of concern

The region reported 3,581 cases have screened positive for a mutation or variant. Of those:

  • 3,073 were the alpha variant, or the B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the U.K.
  • 123 were the delta variant, or B.1.617 variant, first detected in India.
  • 61 were the P1 variant first detected in Brazil, which is unchanged.
  • 11 were the B.1.351 variant first detected in South Africa, also unchanged.
  • 313 cases have a mutation detected, but more testing is required.

17 outbreaks

There were 17 outbreaks in the region.

Nine were at workplaces:

  • Two at trades and related services workplaces: One with six cases, one with two cases.
  • Two at retail stores: One with five cases, one with two cases.
  • One at an office with eight cases.
  • One at a food processor with seven cases.
  • One at a construction site with three cases.
  • One at an automobile sales and service business with two cases.
  • One at a manufacturer with two cases.

The other outbreaks were:

  • One at a congregate setting for people who are homeless over multiple locations with 106 cases.
  • One at The Village at Winston Park long-term care home with 13 cases: Eight in people living at the home, five in people who work there. There is one death associated with this outbreak.
  • Three at other congregate settings with one case at each.
  • One at Kaljas Home, an independent living facility in Kitchener, with one case.
  • One at Grand River Hospital. The number of cases was not released.
  • One at St. Mary's General Hospital. The number of cases was not released.

'Summer we deserve'

Wang also addressed the decision to keep the region in Step 1 of the provincial reopening next week when most of the rest of Ontario will move to Step 2.

"I understand it was very difficult news for many in our community to hear," Wang said. "This is a strategic decision to give us all the summer we deserve."

Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, Waterloo region's medical officer of health, says she won't issue a Sec. 22 order to keep businesses closed next week. Instead, she'll use a mechanism in the Reopening Ontario Act where, as MOH, she can provide instruction to businesses and the community. Her instruction will be to maintain what was allowed under Step 1 for now. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

She urged people to support local businesses and not to travel outside the region to shop, get haircuts or visit family.

"We know it's very difficult for local businesses. Now, more than ever, we need to support local," Wang said. "Waiting a couple of weeks will help them open and stay open."

Fairclough joked she needed a haircut, too, but people must wait a few more weeks to protect each other.

"If you care about your family, don't go see them in the neighbouring areas because we've got delta here and we want to make sure that [delta doesn't] go to those other areas to the same extent," Fairclough said.

Bruce Lauckner, the region's CAO, also encouraged people not to go outside the region because it would spread the delta variant elsewhere. 

"We're going to get vaccinations in arms, we're going to stamp out delta, and I am very concerned delta will spread in other parts of the province," he said.

"We'll be through this in a couple of weeks and in a much different place. I'm not sure if the rest of province can say the same thing if the delta follows the same pattern that it has in the U.K. and other countries."

Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang joined CBC K-W's The Morning Edition on Friday to talk about the decision not to move Waterloo region into step two of the provincial reopening plan next week. Listen to it here:

Regional officials announced Thursday that Waterloo region would stay in step one of the provincial reopening plan when most of the rest of the province moves into step two next week. Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the region's medical officer of health, explains that decision. 5:29


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