COVID-19 cases stretch Kingston ICU beyond capacity

Healthworkers clad in personal protective equipment pick up a patient being
transported to KGH by Ornge helicopter on Thursday, Apr. 8, 2021. Photo via Logan Cadue

A surge in COVID-19 cases being treated at Kingston Health Sciences Centre is stretching ICU capacity beyond its limits, prompting warnings of a looming crisis if COVID-19 transmission is not brought under control. The warnings are made more urgent as Dr. Kieran Moore, KFL&A Public Health’s Medical Officer of Health, has declared an outbreak among the Queen’s University District, with 70 active cases among off-campus district residents.

Jane Philpott, the Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen’s University and a medical doctor who has worked on the front lines of the pandemic since its first wave, says conditions are much worse now.

“Here in Ontario, daily case rates will soon be the highest they have been since the pandemic started. We are in the worst of it, more and more young people are being hospitalized. The spread is continuing rapidly, here in our community and especially among young people,” she said.

And now, our hospitals are stretched beyond their capacity. According to Philpott, Kingston’s ICU is already beyond 100 per cent occupancy, with 17 COVID-positive cases in critical care in Kingston as of Thursday, April 8, 2021, with six more cases expected that day, and continued transfers over the coming weekend.

“We have rightfully been doing our part to help a health system in crisis. And this means accepting patients from across the Ontario Health East region,” said Philpott.

“We’re not just worried that there are not enough beds for our patients,” Philpott continued. “Everyone is stretched to make sure that there are enough critical care specialists, plus the other doctors, nurses and other health professionals needed to manage the volume coming our way. We could yet see the worst case scenario that we won’t have the capacity to provide other kinds of life-saving care that are needed to keep our community safe, to keep you safe.”

Indeed, on Thursday, Ontario Health’s President and CEO, Matthew Anderson, released a memo to Ontario hospitals telling them to “ramp down” all elective surgeries effective Monday, Apr. 12, 2021.

“We all need to do our part to dramatically slow the spread. Now, this is not the time to give up. Instead, right now we must be more vigilant than ever,” said Philpott, addressing the Queen’s student community, who at this time comprise 70 per cent of local COVID-19 cases. “As students, you have been through so much this year. And most of you have been highly diligent. Now we need you to push through a few more difficult weeks in a provincial state of emergency, please stay home. Don’t go to parties, don’t go to gatherings, connect with your friends and family, online, and hang in there. Let’s pull together and support one another, to get through this third wave, the best possible way we can.”

Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor at Queen’s University, echoed Philpott’s statements. “Although the weather is becoming more pleasant and planning is underway for a largely in-person university experience in September, we must conduct ourselves right now in a manner that recognizes the current pandemic situation is very serious indeed,” said Deane.

“Infections are at an all-time high and the virus is spreading quickly through our student population. I have spoken with our local hospital administration and am told that our health care facilities are in a critical situation with very little remaining capacity to assist patients. We must do everything we can to keep ourselves and others safe, and by that means alleviate the strain on our hospitals,” Deane continued. “I am asking you, as members of our community, to please follow all public health advisories and to take this situation extremely seriously. Stay home, do not travel unless it is essential, and do not gather with others beyond your household. It is imperative that we listen to what our health professionals are telling us and that we follow their directions explicitly.”

Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) confirmed the local ICU is operating at capacity, and preparing for a further surge in cases.

“COVID-19 hospitalizations and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) occupancy are on the rise during this third wave of the pandemic, and Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) is not immune to this increased demand,” said Renate Ilse, Vice President of Patient Care for KHSC.

Ilse said that, in addition to the surge in COVID-19 positive cases, the local hospitals have seen a growing need for non-COVID critical care. KHSC will continue to provide this support for the community, she expressed.

“KHSC has three critical care units. At this time, our main ICU is at 100 per cent occupancy, including 17 patients with COVID-19 from across the Ontario Health East Region. By tomorrow, we expect that to increase to 23 patients, with additional transfers to follow,” Ilse explained.

“We have opened up additional critical care capacity and are working to reconfigure our services to accommodate what we expect to be a significant surge in the next few weeks.”

KHSC indicated they expect to have more information in the coming days about how the local hospitals plan to manage the increased demand for critical and acute care.

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