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ICUs at LHSC ‘nearing capacity’ as it treats record number of COVID patients

Tuesday was a grim day across Southwestern Ontario as COVID-19 patients at London hospitals hit a record high and area hospitalizations and deaths soared.

London Health Sciences Centre reported 107 COVID-19 patients Tuesday, up from 89 the day before and more than the previous high of 99 in early May. Of those patients, 71 are being treated for the virus while the other 36 are being treated for other reasons but have tested positive.

“We have hit a record number of patients that are positive for COVID in house at London Health Sciences Centre, and that’s not unique,” Adam Dukelow, chief medical officer at LHSC, said Tuesday.

“With the prevalence of COVID in the community and across the province, my understanding is many hospitals are hitting record numbers.”

LHSC has taken numerous measures at University and Victoria hospitals to cope with the surge, including reducing scheduled surgeries and changing beds that would typically be used for non-COVID-related care and redeploying staff to help with infected patients, Dukelow said.

The number of patients in intensive care – 21 – remained unchanged. There are five or fewer patients with COVID-19 in Children’s Hospital.

As of Tuesday morning, 35 of the 39 intensive care beds were occupied at University Hospital, while 27 of the 31 beds were being used for COVID-19 patients at Victoria Hospital, Dukelow said.

“We are nearing capacity,” he said. “We do have the ability to increase the number of beds in our ICUs but that’s always at the expense of other parts of the hospital. The human resources we have are finite and significantly impacted right now.”

COVID-19 cases among staff are increasing, too. LHSC officials recorded 468 hospital employees that have the virus, up from 434 one day prior.

“I would say at this point in time, our teams are definitely stretched, and it’s not ideal. But we’re keeping up for now,” Dukelow said.

In nearby Oxford and Elgin counties, public health officials reported three new COVID deaths, all linked to outbreaks at three nursing homes.

Three residents died, including a woman in her 80s from Caressant Care Bonnie Place in St. Thomas, a man in his 80s from Secord Trails in Ingersoll, and a woman in her 90s from Terrace Lodge in Aylmer.

Of the area’s 34 long-term care homes, 13 are in some degree of a COVID-19 outbreak. There are 80 cases in the outbreak at Secord Trails, with residents accounting for 29 and nine cases among staff.

The total pandemic death count for the region now sits at 122.

In Sarnia, Bluewater Health reported three additional COVID-related deaths, including two men in their 50s and 70s, and a woman in her 90s, a spokesperson said Tuesday.

The hospital’s death toll has soared in recent weeks as it faces what it has called its biggest test of the pandemic that began in March 2020. Fourteen patients have died of COVID-19 since Dec. 20, bringing the total COVID-related deaths during the pandemic to 78.

There are 34 COVID patients in hospital, including five in the intensive care unit. That’s down from the hospital’s record-high of 41 COVID patients Monday, Bluewater Health spokesperson Julia Oosterman said in an email.

South of Sarnia-Lambton, the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance reported its ICU was at 100 per cent capacity Tuesday.

Officials reported 33 people in hospital with COVID-19. Among the 16 patients who were unvaccinated, six of them were in intensive care, hospital officials said.

Saverio Stranges, chair of epidemiology and biostatistics at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, said the increase of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations was expected, especially during colder months.

Pointing to European countries that have experienced the variant for longer, Stranges said cases may continue to increase in the next few weeks but “at some point, there will be a plateau with Omicron.

“Then we will start seeing a decline hopefully by the end of February or even earlier,” he added.

Public health restrictions limiting social gatherings, coupled with the number of people who are fully vaccinated, Stranges predicts, will also help mitigate the spread of the variant.

“In a context where we have over 80 per cent of people fully vaccinated, and now we have a good percentage of people with a booster, we expect that the impact of Omicron on hospitalizations should be mitigated by vaccinations,” he said.

With files from Postmedia Network reporters Terry Bridge and Trevor Terfloth

cleon@postmedia.com

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