With Ontario's health system on the verge of collapse due to weeks and weeks of inadequate measures, the government's announcement Friday afternoon will not stop the tidal wave of COVID-19 infections and will result in even more preventable devastation and deaths.
During a late afternoon media conference, Premier Doug Ford admitted Ontario is losing its fight with the variants. Yet, the measures he announced are insufficient and will place vulnerable Ontarians at risk and health professionals in moral distress.
RNAO says the government's decision not to close all non-essential workplaces and compensate non-essential workers so they can stay at home, demonstrates Premier Ford is not up to the task of wresting control of the pandemic. "The decision to allow these businesses to remain open will lead to even higher case counts, significantly greater pressures on hospital ICUs and their staff, and more lives lost and families in anguish. This will unfold in front of our eyes in the coming weeks, despite the Premier and his team's insistence that they are doing all they can by "opening more beds," says RNAO's CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun. She adds: "This is catastrophe by design."
In an action alert RNAO sent to its members Thursday evening, the association said bold and urgent action was needed to tackle the severity of the crisis facing Ontarians. RNAO called on the government to redefine essential services as food and medications, to close all non-essential workplaces and compensate workers until they can reopen. The association also reiterated its demand for paid sick days for all essential workers who lack this employee benefit.
RNAO expressed alarm about measures that, instead of protecting workers will make them the targets of policing. "The announcement to give police the right to stop individuals and question them about their whereabouts may place essential workers who already are vulnerable in uncomfortable situations," argues Grinspun.
The number of new cases climbed to an all-time high of 4,812 infections Friday. The number of ICU beds occupied with critically ill COVID-19 positive patients surpassed 700 Friday, likely reaching 1,500 by this time next month. RNAO says the government's failure to grasp the brutal reality of the COVID variants' rapid spread, means more people will die in hospital. It will also prolong the untenable situation facing exhausted nurses, doctors and other health-care workers already at their limit.
"ICUs are stretched beyond capacity and it will get much worse as the government's own science table predicts. The response to the third wave of the pandemic has been abysmal and continues the approach of too-little, too-late at a most critical time given the fast spreading variants of concern. Every delay puts more lives at risk and threatens the collapse of ICUs," says RNAO President Morgan Hoffarth. She adds that "the government has again chosen the route of half measures, which will prove ineffective and frustrating for the many Ontarians who are heeding public health measures."
Hoffarth says "an all-hands-on-deck approach to vaccinate people must be implemented immediately. It is the only way to ensure those in essential workplaces and living in communities identified by public health authorities as hot zones are vaccinated quickly." She adds that "this includes prioritizing everyone 16 and up in these areas for a scaled-up rollout. To achieve this, she says "nurses, physicians, pharmacists, dentists, paramedics and others who are willing and able to vaccinate should be deployed. And mobile units – including home care nurses – should be sent to essential workplaces and hot spots, en masse."
RNAO will continue to stand side-by-side with nurses, doctors and other health professionals who must sustain an overwhelmed health-care system, as a result of faulty policy decisions. "The prospect of triaging patients in ICU beds is devastating and traumatic for each of you – not to mention the patients you are attending to and their families. We will do everything in our power to support you in this most difficult time," adds Hoffarth.
The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association representing registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has advocated for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses' contribution to shaping the health system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve. For more information about RNAO, visit RNAO.ca or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.