Ontario has announced that some surgeries paused due to a surge in COVID-19 cases will resume on Monday, as the province begins to lift some public health restrictions on businesses and social gatherings.
Non-urgent surgeries were put on hold in early January to preserve hospital capacity, affecting an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 procedures a week.
A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said Thursdaythat some operations and procedures will resume in stages starting next week.
Alex Hilkene says the first stage will include pediatrics, diagnostic services, cancer screenings, some ambulatory clinics, private hospitals, and independent health facilities.
Hilkene noted this does not mean all hospitals will immediately resume the surgical and procedural activities permitted.
Meanwhile, Ontario reported drops in both overall hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care for COVID-19 patients on Thursday, ahead of a scheduled update from the province’s chief medical officer of health.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore spoke Thursday at a news conference one week after the provincial government announced its plan to gradually lift public health measures.
It was also Moore’s last regularly scheduled public appearance before restrictions are set to ease on Monday.
The Ministry of Health said this morning that, as of yesterday, there were 3,645 people with COVID-19 in hospitals. That’s down from 4,016 the day before and 4,061 at the same time last week.
About 56 per cent of those patients were admitted for COVID-related illnesses while 44 per cent were already in hospital when they tested positive for the virus, according to the ministry.
There were 599 patients with COVID-19 who required intensive care, a second straight day the overall number has fallen. It’s down from 608 the day before but up slightly from the same time last week.
Roughly 82 per cent of the people with COVID-19 in ICUs were admitted for reasons directly related to the virus.
The health ministry also reported another 70 deaths of people with the virus, bringing the official toll to 11,230.
More Ontarians with COVID-19 have died this month than in any other month since last January. January 2022 is currently on track to be among the deadliest months of the entire pandemic in the province, with 1,036 deaths confirmed thus far.
Ontario isn’t reporting data on COVID-19 cases in schools, but there were seven schools closed because of COVID-19 operational impacts and 370 schools with student and staff absence rates of 30 per cent or higher.
Additional measures set to lift Monday
Starting Monday, the province will allow food or drink services at indoor sporting events, concert venues, theatres and cinemas, bingo halls and other venues.
Masks will continue to be required when patrons are not eating or drinking.
In addition, the government will also be removing the legal requirement to work from home except where necessary.
The province will also no longer be requiring most businesses to collect patron information for contact tracing.
“This is aligned with recent changes to the testing and case and contact management guidance and will allow businesses to focus their efforts on the enforcement of other public health measures in these settings, such as masking requirements,” the Thursday release reads.
Premier Doug Ford announced last week that with public health indicators starting to show signs of improvement, some COVID-19 restrictions will be eased starting Monday.
Indoor social gathering limits are set to increase from five to 10, and restaurants will be able to reopen their dining rooms at 50 per cent capacity.
Theatres will be able to reopen, and “spectator areas” such as arenas and concert venues will be able to welcome back up to 500 guests, with smaller venues limited to half capacity.
Initially, guests at movie theatres weren’t going to be allowed to consume food or beverages until the next phase of restrictions easing, currently set for Feb. 21.
Cineplex said it had worked closely with the province on this change.
Ontario releases guidelines for Paxlovid COVID-19 treatment
Ontario is prioritizing older, unvaccinated residents and immunocompromised individuals for a new antiviral COVID-19 treatment.
The province received its first shipment of Paxlovid last week, and Health Minister Christine Elliott had said the drug would be directed toward adults at the highest risk.
Ontario has now released its guidelines for who is eligible for the treatment, including immunocompromised adults, unvaccinated people aged 60 and over, and unvaccinated people aged 50 and over if they have one or more risk factors, or are First Nation, Inuit or Metis individuals.
The treatment, currently available in limited quantities, will be available at clinical assessment centres throughout the province, though not all of the 75 centres will necessarily have the antivirals on hand.
People who would qualify for Paxlovid have to first test positive for COVID-19, and the province says eligible individuals can receive either a PCR test or a rapid test at those sites.
Treatment with Paxlovid — six pills a day for five days — has to start within five days of symptoms beginning in order to be effective.