Opposition politicians joined doctors and public health experts Monday in warning that the province's intensive care units are reaching their breaking point and some Ontarians could be denied life-saving care if the situation continues to worsen.
When Premier Doug Ford was asked about those concerns at a press conference he responded with a message to "young folks."
"Guys, this party's not over, you know what I mean? You've just got to make sure you follow the protocols, follow the guidelines because what's happening is you bring it home to one of your loved ones, your parents, your grandparents," he said. "It's unacceptable.'"
Ford said he'd just been discussing the issue with his cabinet and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, who'd said that 50 per cent of the ICU cases are with younger people.
"We're going to keep a sharp eye on it," he said, adding that the province spent billions of dollars to increase hospital capacity this year.
"Guys, we got to watch it," he said. "This is serious. So please follow the guidelines, protocols. And we still have a ways to go before we can loosen anything up."
The question was prompted by increasing calls for the province to take action to blunt the third wave to protect ICUs by limiting the opportunities for indoor gatherings, in particular.
Dr. Michael Warner, medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital, told QP Briefing Friday that hospital staff were trained in January on how to triage intensive care patients, estimating the likelihood of their death within a year in order to ethically determine who should be denied care when no more beds were available. He's afraid that will become necessary in the third wave.
On Monday, the Globe and Mail reported on the triage website that physicians would use to assist in making those determinations.
"Every hospital has a triage team ready to go, should the government tell us that we need to do this," Warner told QP Briefing. He also confirmed his COVID-19 patients are younger now — but said the majority are essential workers or their family members.
This is the story (shared with permission) of a patient in her 40s with #COVID we just intubated.
— Michael Warner (@drmwarner) March 29, 2021
In a separate interview, he recommended limits on indoor gatherings, prioritizing vaccines to essential workers in hot spots, improving workplace safety and implementing paid sick days.
At a media briefing Monday, Toronto Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa also emphasized that indoor gatherings pose a far greater risk than those outdoor.
"We've learned over the course of the past year and a bit that being outdoors, while not zero-risk, is certainly much lower risk in terms of transmission of the virus," said de Villa, adding that giving people the opportunity to be outside can be part of lowering the transmission until vaccines take effect.
However, the province has taken steps recently to loosen restrictions on some indoor activities, including announcing personal care services such as salons may be able to open in all framework zones as of April 12 and increasing indoor dining capacity in orange and red zones.
But Williams said Monday opening up personal care services in the grey zones will depend on the data available at the time. He also said that he and Ford's cabinet are prepared to move some regions beyond the grey zone, into a stricter shutdown zone, if required.
At Queen's Park, politicians from all opposition parties raised alarms about the possibility ICUs will be denying some patients medical care but were far less specific about what they believe the province should be doing.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca held a press conference about the intensive care situation but didn't call for specific interventions, aside from listening to medical experts.
"So what we're calling on for Doug Ford today to do is to stop the campaign, which is horribly premature, to come back to the science table to get the very best advice possible, and to put forward a coherent plan that the people of this province can truly understand, that prioritizes its essential and vulnerable workers in our hardest-hit regions," said Del Duca.
For her part, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath continued to call for the province to implement paid sick days. While she didn't call on the premier to increase public health restrictions, she said that if he must do so it will be his fault for having failed to take other actions earlier.
Green Leader Mike Schreiner also criticized Ford for not acting earlier. "Nobody wants another lockdown but if we need one, then I will support another lockdown because saving people's lives and not putting our health-care workers in that impossible position — which we're getting very close to — of having to triage literally how we care for people and whose lives are going to be saved and whose are not is a decision that we don't want to force upon anyone," said Schreiner.
Epidemiologist Colin Furness said it's been the pattern of Ontario to wait too long to act.
"One common thread in our pandemic response has been to wait until it’s too late, and then introduce measures that don’t go far enough," he told QP Briefing. "We’re doing that again. Whether the politicians think that we need more restrictions now or later, doesn’t change that, unfortunately: we’re doing too little, too late, to blunt this wave."
He added that the premier's comments on intensive care admissions suggest he isn't listening to real experts. "On that basis, I wouldn’t expect him to have a competent grasp of our ICU situation or the dynamics of the current wave," he said. "Instead, I expect him to continue making poor decisions and underestimating the gravity of the situation until it is too late."