Is it too soon for Windsor-Essex to come out of a lockdown? Windsor Regional Hospital weighs in

A lull in hospitalized and community COVID-19 cases means that Windsor-Essex will likely come out of a lockdown next week, but could it be too soon? 

Hospital's chief of staff says he supports the reopening plan

Spotted in the downtown, a City of Windsor sign says 'respect social distance.' (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

A lull in hospitalized and community COVID-19 cases means that Windsor-Essex will likely come out of a lockdown next week, but could it be too soon? 

Not at all, according to Windsor Regional Hospital chief of staff Dr. Wassim Saad. 

"With the numbers where they are, with our hospital capacity where it is, it makes sense for us to come out of the lockdown," Saad told CBC News Thursday. 

He said the reopening plans are "reasonable" given that the hospital is no longer overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and the region is seeing reduced spread of the disease. 

Earlier this week, the province announced that Windsor-Essex, along with 28 other regions in the province, would likely come out of the stay-at-home order on Feb. 16. At that time, each region will move into a colour-coded provincial COVID-19 category.

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit says right now, the region qualifies for the "red-control" zone. 

"The main purpose of the lockdown was to protect our health care resources and ensure that we don't overwhelm our ICU capacity and I think that's been accomplished. Now that the numbers are much better in the inpatient settings, it makes sense to open up," said Saad. 

At this time, he said hospital staff are taking a breather, especially after the intensity of the last month. 

Just three weeks ago, CBC News was invited inside Windsor Regional Hospital's ICU, where staff were stretched thin caring for patients. 

Now, half the number of people are in hospital compared to early January.

Across the region 44 people are in hospital with the disease as of Thursday. Windsor Regional has 11 of those patients, seven of whom are in the ICU. 

Chief of Staff for Windsor Regional Hospital Dr. Wassim Saad. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

"It's been coming in waves," Saad said. "We'll have a period of time where we're admitting a lot of patients and the stress levels will rise and then the numbers will come down, we get a bit of a break, people try to recharge as much as they possibly can and that's where we are right now." 

As restrictions loosen, he anticipates that case numbers will rise again but said it's a hard sell to continue to lock down a region when its hospitals are not overwhelmed. 

"It's a very tough balance between both the economic and psychological impact that a lockdown has and also trying to protect your health-care resources," he said. 

"Nobody really wants to lock down and shut down the economy with rising case numbers, but with a hospital that has empty beds and ICU beds. So it is a very delicate balance and that's part of the decision making public health has to look at."

'Legitimate concern' for 3rd wave 

But, even if the stay-at-home order lifts, people still need to exercise caution, especially now that a COVID-19 variant has been confirmed in the region, he added. 

On Thursday, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit confirmed a variant in the region. It says it will be at least a week before it's identified as the one found in the U.K., South Africa, or another variant. 

Based on data from other parts of the world, the variants are more highly transmissible and may be slightly resistant to the vaccines. 

For these reasons, Saad said residents need to follow all the proper health measures. 

And while only one case has been confirmed, Saad says there's a "legitimate concern" for a third wave should the variant spread. 

"We have to be very careful with the variant and with the opening up and track those numbers very closely and make adjustments on the fly if we need to," he said.

On Thursday, provincial officials presented modelling that said the variant first found in the U.K. will soon dominate.

The report concluded that "aggressive vaccination" and maintaining a stay-at-home order will help avoid a third wave and a third lockdown.


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