2 GTA hospitals declare 'code orange' as Ontario prepares to tighten public health measures

Ontario reported at least 11,352 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and another rise in hospitalizations and ICU admissions on Tuesday — one day before new public health measures and restrictions begin across the province.

New public health measures, restrictions set to take effect Wednesday

Hospitals are dealing with an influx of COVID-19 patients and staffing shortages, both linked to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario reported at least 11,352 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and another rise in hospitalizations and ICU admissions on Tuesday — one day before new public health measures and restrictions begin across the province.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said the latest census shows there were 1,290 people hospitalized with COVID-19. That's up from 491 at the same time last week, or a 163 per cent increase.

There were also 266 patients being treated for COVID-related illnesses in intensive care units, up from 187 last Tuesday.

As Ontario recently changed its guidelines to significantly limit who qualifies for a PCR test, the case total provided by Elliott is likely a drastic undercount of 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. 

With that caveat in mind, today's official case count includes:

  • 2,480 in Toronto
  • 1,486 in Peel Region
  • 1,059 in York Region
  • 635 in Durham Region
  • 612 in Waterloo Region
  • 489 in Simcoe Muskoka
  • 482 in Ottawa
  • 466 in Halton Region
  • 449 in Middlesex-London
  • 407 in Niagara Region
  • 337 in Windsor-Essex
  • 330 in Hamilton
  • 236 in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph
  • 200 in the Southwestern health unit
  • 136 in the Eastern Ontario health unit
  • 136 in Grey Bruce
  • 123 in Brant County
  • 121 in Sudbury
  • 120 in Huron Perth
  • 117 in Renfrew County
  • 113 in Chatham-Kent
  • 112 in Lambton County
  • 102 in Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington

Forecast shows Omicron threatens health system

During a news conference to announce sweeping measures and restrictions on Monday, Premier Doug Ford said he had seen modelling that suggests Ontario could see hundreds of thousands of new daily cases in the coming weeks. 

While that modelling has not been made public, Ford's office did share a Public Health Ontario forecast that showed the sheer number of cases caused by the highly-transmissible Omicron variant threatens to overwhelm the province's health-care system. 

There are already signs the ongoing Omicron wave is overburdening some hospitals.

WATCH | Nursing shortage is 'going to cost lives,' says ICU nurse:

Nursing shortage is 'going to cost lives,' says ICU nurse

1 year ago
Duration 10:01
Nurses are breaking down, crying and quitting because of the intense pressure they face on the job due to a severe staffing shortage, says Toronto intensive care unit (ICU) nurse Birgit Umaigba.

William Osler Health System, which oversees Brampton Civic and Etobicoke General hospitals, has initiated a "code orange" as COVID patients requiring care and staffing shortages put tremendous strain on its operations.

A code orange is typically declared "when demand outpaces capacity to ensure internal and external resources are deployed efficiently," the health system said in a news release. It is the first time William Osler has issued a code orange during the pandemic. 

"We're seeing levels of illness within our health-care workforce higher than we've ever seen at this stage in the pandemic," said Dr. Andrew Healey, corporate chief of emergency medicine at William Osle.

"That's markedly affecting our ability to staff various units, including the emergency departments across our sites."

Healey said moving to code orange will allow the hospitals to focus on caring for sick patients, while deferring less urgent activities. 

"All of the non-clinical focused activities that run a hospital are being pushed to the side for the moment," Healey told CBC News Network in an interview.

"All of our clinics are moving to virtual where they can … We are attempting to really focus on the care of acutely ill patients [coming] through our front doors."

Other hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area are facing a similar situation, Healey added.

Patient-to-nurse ratio grows at William Osler

Dr. Naveed Mohammad, CEO of William Osler, added that it was the nurse-to-patient ratio that ultimately prompted the hospital system to issue the code orange. 

"We like it to be ... one nurse for every four patients or one nurse to every five patients," said Mohammad. "We were getting close to one to 10, and we felt that that was not safe not only for our patients, but also for our staff."

Mohammad said even if the Ministry of Health were able to provide additional beds, he wouldn't be able to staff them at this time.

Queensway Carleton Hospital in Ottawa also initiated a code orange last week.

As part of the new measures set to take effect on Wednesday, hospitals across Ontario are being directed to pause all non-urgent surgeries and procedures in order to preserve critical care capacity.

Meanwhile, schools will move online for at least two weeks. A comprehensive list of changes coming tomorrow can be found here