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Slide in mask use and COVID-19 vaccinations will put more strain on beleaguered hospitals, Ontario’s top doctor warns


Slide in mask use and COVID-19 vaccinations will put more strain on beleaguered hospitals, Ontario’s top doctor warns

Not enough people are masking on public transit or getting shots for COVID-19 and the flu as the holiday season arrives, Ontario’s chief medical officer warns, as critics blame the Ontario government for failing to promote precautionary measures.

The trends will lead to higher levels of preventable illness and more trouble in hospitals struggling to cope with heavy patient loads, especially among children, Dr. Kieran Moore said Thursday, predicting a rise in new COVID-19 cases by mid-January.

At vaccination clinics, “we have more spaces than patients showing up,” Moore told CBC Radio.

“Sadly, I’m seeing the numbers of people coming forward and getting immunized against COVID, in particular, decreasing day by day, week by week,” added Moore, who cancelled a separate interview with the Star citing a scheduling conflict.

“We reached a peak of around 30,000 and now we’re down to 16,000 or 17,000 a day. We really need everyone protected as much as we can going into the holidays … We’re absolutely wanting parents to come forward and protect their children through immunization.”

Moore said his experience on public transit has been disappointing since he issued a plea for people to mask up on subways, streetcars and buses at his last news conference on Nov. 14. That was shortly before he was photographed not wearing a mask at a party, fuelling concerns he was undermining his own message.

“I certainly wear my mask in those public spaces and am concerned that not enough of us are masking,” the province’s top doctor told “Metro Morning” host Ismaila Alfa.

“I was sitting near someone that was actually coughing without a mask on and had to put a request and ask them kindly to wear their mask … That’s the venue where we do have a risk of transmission.”

Critics said Moore and Premier Doug Ford have not done enough to get the message across about the importance of wearing masks in indoor public spaces, getting COVID-19 booster shots and vaccinations against the flu.

“It’s an admission of their failure,” Liberal MPP Dr. Adil Shamji (Don Valley East), an emergency room physician, said of Moore’s lament.

Shamji noted children’s hospitals are overflowing because of high rates of flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), resulting in cancelled surgeries and transfers of patients to hospitals that are sometimes far away from their homes — a situation which Health Minister Sylvia Jones has said is “not ideal.”

Appearing with Moore on the radio show, Ontario Health chief executive Matthew Anderson acknowledged the difficulties facing hospitals.

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“I take my cues from the front line,” he added. “They’re telling me … that there is a crisis happening, that they have got real challenges in meeting demand,” he said.

Wilfrid Laurier University epidemiologist Todd Coleman told the Star that Moore and the provincial government need to do a better job of telling the public that immunity against COVID-19 from vaccinations wanes over several months, making it important to get the latest booster and annual flu shots.

“Just complaining about people not doing things is not going to get them to do things,” said Coleman, a former public health official in London, Ont.

Stong and repeated messaging on shots and masking is needed to counter pandemic and vaccination fatigue in a large portion of the population, he added.

“People need direction,” Coleman said. “They’re not getting it.”

Shamji called on Moore to hold weekly news conferences on the state of the health-care system, and on the Ford government to launch an ad blitz like the one his Progressive Conservative party used to win re-election in the June 2 vote.

“I wish they could turn that same ambition … towards helping all of us get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Shamji said. “The message needs to get out.”

Moore maintained he and the government have been doing so through public remarks and on social media, in addition to efforts by Ontario’s 34 regional public health units and allowing pharmacists to prescribe the COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid.

But Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said “every day brings new evidence our health system is crumbling before our eyes and every day the silence from Premier Ford and Health Minister Jones becomes more deafening.”

“Ambulances are on standby to shuttle sick children from overcrowded hospitals to somewhere with a vacant bed, life-changing surgeries are delayed, and wait times throughout the system are at record levels,” he added in a statement.

“And still the Ford government sticks to its message: nothing to see here, it’s all under control — when clearly it is not.”

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

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