Just a few days before Christmas, the Guelph General Hospital announced Tuesday that the rapid spread of the Omicron variant is forcing them to tighten the rules around visitors. As of Thursday, all hospital patients will only be allowed one visitor for the duration of their stay, and for anyone that doesn’t wish to be a COVID patient in the hospital, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore says he’s trying to help you get a booster.
Starting on Thursday, any hospital patient in emergency, in critical care, over 70 or in hospital longer than five days, patients in a deteriorating condition, patients who need special support, paediatric patients, patients in a mental health crisis, and women who are in labour, are post-partum, or are experiencing a lost pregnancy will be allowed one “essential visitor” for the length of their hospital stay. According one exec at the hospital, this was not a decision made lightly.
“We know how important family members and loved ones are to the patient experience and to their care journey,” said Melissa Skinner, VP Patient Services and Chief Nursing Executive in a statement. “However, we have to be mindful of the risks associated with this new variant and take extra precautions to ensure our hospital remains as safe as possible.”
“No one wanted to see a return to tighter restrictions, especially just days away from the Christmas holidays,” Skinner added. “However, given the transmission risk of the Omicron variant and the rapid increase in community cases, it’s a necessary step to help ensure the safety of both patients and our staff.”
The latest local COVID-19 case count on Tuesday was significantly smaller that the 300 new cases counted by Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health over the weekend. There were just 30 new cases in the region on Tuesday, and the total number of active cases fell slightly from 536 to 533. Currently, the only institutional outbreak of COVID-19 is in Palmerston and District Hospital where there are three patients and three staff members with the virus.
In the rest of Ontario on Tuesday there were 3,453 new cases of COVID-19, which was over 300 less than the day before, and nearly 800 fewer than Sunday. At his pre-holiday briefing on Tuesday, Dr. Moore said that Ontario has a 7.4 per cent positivity rate, and that hospitalisations have increased 9 per cent in the last week. Moore added that ICU admissions are steady for the moment, but there are still questions about the full strength and impact of Omicron on patients.
“Early evidence indicates that Omicron is four to eight times more transmissible than the Delta variant, and as of last week, Omicron has become the dominant strain in Ontario. This variant moves quickly, and we need to do the same,” Moore said. “We appreciate how difficult this is right before the holidays, but these measures are necessary to prevent infection and to prevent overwhelming our healthcare system.”
New capacity restrictions went into effect on Sunday in most public settings including bars and restaurants, concert venues and cinemas, casinos, rec centres, sporting events, and even retail settings. Monday was the first day that everyone over 18 years old were eligible to get a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and Moore once again encouraged everyone to get those boosters as soon as possible.
At issue though is the limited availability of booster appointments. Online booking systems have crashed, walk-in and pop-up clinics are being overrun, and there are even reports that there are some people over 50 that still don’t have a booster appointment. Moore noted the province gave out over 200,000 shots on Monday, and if this pace can be kept up, it means that over a million shots can be given out on a weekly basis.
“We’re pulling out all the stops to try to have as many immunized hours available to Ontarians as possible,” Moore said. “We were doing very well against Delta, and had a great strategy in play, but we had to accelerate it in the face of a new threat, and our health units stepped up, our primary care is stepping up, our pharmacies have certainly stepped up, and our hospitals are immunizing now on a regular basis. All of the major partners are stepping up to protect Ontarians, and we should be thankful of the efforts that they’re making.”
“I know this is an anxious time I know many are worried. We’ll get through this together we’ll get you the vaccine it may me not at the exact time you’d like but we’re doing our best at a very difficult time,” Moore added.
Over the holiday break, WDG Public Health will be having limited holiday hours for their COVID-19 call centre and the vaccine booking line. There are four vaccine sites in Guelph that will be open throughout the holidays including the public health office on Chancellors Way, their clinic in Stone Road Mall, and additional clinics at John F. Ross Collegiate and the Linamar plant at 700 Woodlawn Road West (although they’re only giving our Pfizer at that location).
The web porthole to book a vaccine appointment is here, but presently there are no open spots available at any of the four Guelph clinics until the end of February.