COVID-19 hospitalizations almost double in 4 days at London's largest hospital

The region's largest hospital is feeling the burden of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant as more patients infected with COVID-19 are admitted.

There is concern across Ontario that health care systems will be overburdened

People are pictured entering and exiting the LHSC (University Hospital - London Health Sciences Centre) on Jan. 3, 2022. Throughout the pandemic, LHSC has worked hard to battle outbreaks within its two London, ON, hospital campuses. (Colin Butler/CBC)

The region's largest hospital is feeling the burden of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant as more patients infected with COVID-19 are admitted.

The London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) said Tuesday it had 59 people in hospital with the virus, ten of whom are in critical care. The hospital took a four-day holiday hiatus on reporting data. In that time, the number of inpatients nearly doubled.

Public Health Ontario forecasts show the sheer number of cases caused by Omicron threatens to overwhelm the province's health-care system. On Tuesday, two hospitals in the GTA declared a "code orange," meaning there were more patients needing care than available resources. 

The hospital said it is treating fewer than five children for the virus. It said 210 staff have tested positive. 

LHSC's vice president Carol Young-Ritchie said the hospital has contingency plans in place to address staff shortages and is monitoring the situation daily. 

She added that provincial guidelines, which have paused non-urgent surgeries, can help prevent a code orange situation since staff can now be reassigned to perform other duties.

The hospital said Tuesday it would "significantly reduce surgeries and diagnostic imaging" to only urgent and emergent cases. 

In-person appointments will be transitioned to virtual appointments, where possible, and resources will be focused on clinics that support "hospital diversion or discharge." 

Changes to local case counts and investigations

Ontario is no longer providing PCR tests for everyone, having recently changed its guidelines. With that in mind, local case counts no longer reflect the real situation. Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table estimates that roughly one in five cases are currently being confirmed by the province's testing regime. 

The Middlesex London Health Unit (MLHU) said Tuesday it had 544 new cases of COVID-19. 

Acting medical officer of health, Dr. Alex Summers said that a radical shift in strategy is needed in the face of the variant, so previous contact tracing measures used during the delta wave don't have the same impact anymore. 

"Omicron is moving more quickly than we can identify or contain. Testing for it and the subsequent case investigations it used to trigger, is no longer preventing transmission," said Summers. 

Case investigations and outbreak management will now focus on highest-risk settings. These include: hospitals, long-term care and retirement homes, congregate living settings where people who are immunocompromised live, and First Nations communities. 

"Cases in other settings will not be notified, nor will they be investigated by the health unit," Summers added. 

'A profound peak of COVID' says Summers

According to Summers, changes to testing guidelines will also pivot the way data is analyzed.

 The health unit will focus on the trend and other indicators like hospitalizations, deaths, and the per cent positivity among those who are eligible for testing by seeing how many people getting tested have a positive result. 

"We are at a profound peak of COVID-19. We know that numbers are going to continue to climb for the next little while," he said.

"Our hope is that the interventions that are put in place along with the booster campaign will help blunt that."

Summers added that despite the changes, the conclusions of the data will still be consistent and allow experts to monitor trends moving forward.