With the Easter long weekend here, Health Sciences North president and CEO Dominic Giroux is hoping it doesn't create a new surge of COVID-19 infections across the Sudbury district in the next few weeks.
Giroux, who engaged in a series of local media interviews Thursday, spoke earnestly about how serious and grim the situation has become not just with COVID-19 but also the Variants of Concern, which represent new strains of the coronavirus. A technical briefing held at Queen's Park Thursday said there is especially a worry about the B.1.1.7 UK variant.
"The variant of concern is a concern," said Giroux.
"Sadly we've had seven deaths at HSN due to COVID in the last seven days alone, and we offer our condolences to the families and friends of these patients," said Giroux.
He added that the profile of a typical COVID-19 patient has changed in the past month.
"So until January or February, most of our COVID patients were elderly patients. This is no longer the case. Our COVID patients in the ICU in March were between the ages of 28 and 71. And the average of a COVID patient in the ICU was in his or her fifties," he said.
Giroux added that most of the new patients in ICU are being screened for Variants of Concern, meaning indications of a mutation are evident which means a more thorough follow-up test is required.
"In addition, we are seeing more patients in the ICU for whom a ventilator is not sufficient. They now require ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation).
"ECMO is a life-support machine for patients whose lungs are so damaged by infection," Giroux said.
HSN also had to deal with the fact that COVID-19 occurred in three separate medical units of the hospital in early March, on the fourth floor, on the sixth floor and on the seventh floor. Two of the outbreaks have been declared over. The outbreak on the seventh floor is expected to end soon.
"I am extremely proud of our teams. They continue to be resilient. They continue to be compassionate; to be focused on the patient and their loved ones."
Giroux said the hospital has had extensive planning and training in the past 15 months and was fortunate not to have had an outbreak until the first one which happened in January. He said the impact of the three outbreaks in March was to reduce patient flow and as a precaution, HSN ramped down its volume of surgeries.
Giroux said fighting the pandemic has been a long, hard haul for the hospital staff.
"We know this is a marathon," he said. He added he is hopeful that the increasing number of vaccines administered by Public Health Sudbury and District will gradually slow the spread of the virus. But it will take time.
"We know we are not out of the woods," said Giroux. "And that's why we are encouraging Sudburians and Northerners to show support for our frontline workers by remaining vigilant when it comes to following public health and provincial directives. That includes physical distancing, hand washing and wearing masks."
Giroux added that the trends we are seeing across Ontario now are worrisome.
"You know we may be at a tipping point where the virus could spiral out of control," he said. "You know case counts are increasing. So are hospitalizations and the number of people in intensive care. Variants of concern are increasing," he said.
Giroux said the health care community is fully aware that the pandemic has been around for more than a year and people are getting tired of it.
"Imagine how tired frontline workers are. They have the same pressures at home with kids, school, spouses, aging parents and then they come to work, at the hospital. What the public can do to help them is stay safe, to isolate and to limit gatherings, especially during this long weekend."
Giroux said up until the new year, Sudbury did very well in relative terms in holding off the worst of the pandemic.
"What's different now is the Variants of Concern. It is more dynamic. It is more transmissible. It has a higher impact on those who contract it. And that's what we have seen in the past month," he said.
With the next long weekend, the May long weekend, happening in less that two months, Giroux said he is hopeful things will have improved in Sudbury.
"Definitely would like to see more vaccinations and people continuing to follow guidelines from public health. These are things that are within people's control. Each of us individually has control on our own behaviour, on how we practise physical distancing, on how we wash our hands, on how we don't gather with people outside our household."
Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com, covering health care in Northern Ontario. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the federal government.