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Hospital expands COVID-19 unit as cases continue to rise

There were a record 35 COVID-positive patients at Thunder Bay’s regional hospital, 10 in ICU, on Saturday.

THUNDER BAY – Rising hospitalization numbers are forcing Thunder Bay’s regional hospital to expand its COVID-19 unit, which now occupies the whole of its 3A surgical inpatient wing.

The hospital reported 35 COVID-positive patients admitted as of Saturday, with 10 in the Intensive Care Unit – both record figures.

The increasing number of infected patients has required the hospital to not only expand the COVID-19 unit, but also its ICU capacity, now providing intensive care in alternate locations in the hospital.

It continued to free up capacity overall, however, with occupancy falling to around 75 per cent. That measure had reached 90 per cent earlier in the week.

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit has the most COVID-19 cases per capita of any health unit in Ontario, according to recent provincial data.

Its incidence rate stood at 160 cases per 100,000 people for the most recent five-day period of Feb. 17 to 23, nearly double the next highest rate of 88.4, in Peel.

The hospital serves a large region that also includes individuals from outside the TBDHU.

In a release Saturday evening, the hospital implored local residents to follow public health guidelines to reduce strain on the institution.

However, it also reassured the public it remained safe to visit the hospital for urgent care.

"During the first wave of the pandemic, some community members avoided the hospital out of fear," the release stated. "As a result, in many cases, health care conditions worsened. Those who need urgent care can safely access it at our hospital."

Chief of Staff Dr. Zaki Ahmed, who provides care in the COVID-19 unit, projected confidence the hospital was prepared to meet the rapidly evolving situation.

“If we need to triple our capacity to provide critical care, our plans allow us to do just that," he said. "We are ready to respond to our community’s increasing needs during this pandemic.”

On Tuesday, when there were 22 COVID-positive patients admitted, and 6 in ICU, COVID-19 incident manager Dr. Stewart Kennedy said the hospital was in a "very fragile" situation due to the number of infected patients.

“They’re coming in sicker,” he said. “We’re in a more severe situation than we ever have been before. Not to panic – we’re here to take care of the needs – but… this is getting to be an impending significant problem and we need the cooperation of the public.”

In addition to expanding its COVID-19 unit and ICU capacity, the hospital said it would also focus on more day surgeries and short-stay procedures.

"This enables health care providers and support staff to work in the areas of highest need," it said.

There had not yet been cancellations of surgeries as of Tuesday, while Kennedy said all emergency and cancer treatment surgeries were set to go ahead.

However, he warned elective surgeries could be delayed.

“Each time we add more to COVID-19 it takes away from our surgical capacity."