Although the Canadian government is doing what it can to prepare for snowbirds and spring break travellers returning to the country, its chief medical health officer said hospitals are preparing for a “surge” in COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Theresa Tam answered questions Sunday about health care systems throughout the provinces that are readying community centres, arenas and other buildings as make-shift COVID-19 treatment facilities.
“Of course, given the various influxes, like the March break returnees that are still coming back or snowbirds, hospitals are trying to prepare for that surge,” Tam said.
She said the most “fundamental public health measure” was to ensure returning travellers remained in quarantine for 14 days.
“The penalties are substantial if you do not.”
Earlier this week, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said travellers who return to Canada as of March 25 will have their contact information collected and authorities will follow-up to make sure they are following instructions. Canada shut its borders earlier this month to slow the spread of COVID-19, but repatriation flights have brought hundreds home.
Under the Quarantine Act, any person who causes “a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person while wilfully or recklessly contravening this act” could be subject to a max fine of up $1 million and a three-year prison term, or a fine of $300,000 and a six-month prison term, for an indictment conviction or a summary conviction, respectfully.
Tam said many hospitals have decreased their ICU occupancy rates by 50 per cent as they prepare for more COVID-19 patients.
Many hospitals, including B.C., have discharged patients and cancelled elective procedures, hoping to be ready for any possible influx of patients. As of Sunday, Canada had recorded 5,866 positive cases of the virus, and 63 deaths. The death rate is about one per cent, Tam said, and three per cent of patients have ended up in intensive care. More than 205,000 people have been tested for COVID-19.
Tam said she was cautiously optimistic after seeing the modelling released by B.C. within the past few days. Health officials there say 45 per cent of COVID-19 patients have recovered, but despite the good news, Tam said the next week will be critical in determining where Canada’s situation goes.
Speaking on Tuesday, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said hospital bed occupancy was at 66 per cent across the province, down from an average of 103.5 per cent. He said the critical care bed occupancy rate is at 55 per cent. At a press conference later that week, Dix said the province has now cleared more than 3,900 beds, 371 of them critical care beds.
B.C. health authorities have identified 17 “primary COVID” hospital care sites, and is planning to use all hospital sites as needed to meet demand. Total ventilator-capable beds currently are at 705, including beds and equipment usually used for surgical patients.
On Sunday, Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer, said the feds are working on a Canada-wide inventory of ventilators, but acknowledged that an earlier estimate that 5,000 will be needed is likely now out-of-date.
“It’s difficult to say what number of ventilators is needed because what we’re planning to do is prepare the systems so we never have that peak requirement,” Njoo said. The government has ordered an additional 600 ventilators, Tam said.
“We’re pulling out all the stops to try and get access to whatever we have,” she said, noting there are “supply issues, globally” for masks and other personal protective equipment.
– With files from Tom Fletcher/Black Press Media