Toronto cancer surgeon warns Ontario hospitals are at ‘tipping point’


TORONTO – Ontario cancer surgeon is sounding the alarm on hospital capacity, warning that the province’s record number of COVID-19 cases has placed the health care system at a “tipping point” and that easing provincial restrictions could once again lead to overwhelmed emergency rooms. Dr Shady Ashamalla, chief of general surgery at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center, told CTV News Toronto that hospitals are currently in a “sweet spot” where critical surgeries are performed, while the space for COVID patients -19 is still maintained.

But Ashamalla warns that the growth of cases in the second wave of the pandemic caused anxiety in her patients, who recall the cancellation of surgeries in the first wave.

“Our phones are ringing fine with people very anxious to have the surgery right away because they’re terrified that in two, three or four weeks they won’t be able to have the surgery,” Ashamalla said.

Their fears, Ashamalla said, are grounded in reality, as the province’s positivity rates and reproduction numbers remain at worrying levels.

“Day after day, we get worse. The seven-day trends are getting worse, ”Dr. Ashamalla told CTV News Toronto. “And for the government to allow activities indoors without a mask, we know it increases transmission. [which] comes with an increased hospitalization rate – and we know we can’t maintain those numbers forever. ”

Already, the William Osler health system – which includes hospitals in Etobicoke and Brampton – is at full capacity and has started transferring patients to other regional hospitals, which have also approached capacity.

There are currently 374 patients with the novel coronavirus in hospitals across the province, well below the 1,043 patients who were hospitalized during the peak of the first wave.

Over the weekend, the Ford government implemented a new color-coded COVID-19 chart, which relaxed restrictions on sensitive areas such as Peel Region, York Region and Ottawa.

Under the new framework, the strictest measures would still allow indoor dining, the use of gyms, and the reopening of casinos – albeit with strict capacity limits.

The framework has come under heavy criticism for its pandemic benchmarks that some infectious disease specialists and public health experts say will allow the virus to spread uncontrollably before triggering public health measures.

Ashamalla says that while the government’s willingness to avoid a complete foreclosure is the “right idea,” he also believes some of the benchmarks – including the requirement that a region should have a 10% positivity rate before to be designated as a “red zone” – are too high.

“It’s an astronomical number, it’s a disaster number – 10 percent,” Ashamalla said. “It’s like setting your smoke alarm to go off only when your house is on fire.”

Premier Ford on Friday defended the new framework as “preventative maintenance” and said it was designed to avert “one hell” of COVID-19 by covering hard-hit areas with additional support.

“When we see problems, to jump in there, to put more contact tracers, add more windows [testing] centers in hot areas, ”Ford said.

As a cancer surgeon, however, Dr Ashamalla wants to avoid postponement of surgeries and has said the government should crack down on activities indoors where clients are allowed to remove their masks.

“When someone has cancer, if you don’t get it out with surgery that results in one hundred percent death,” Ashamalla said. “It’s very difficult to tell people that we prioritize eating indoors over eliminating their cancers.”

“It’s a very difficult conversation to have.”


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