Ontario’s Telehealth service flooded with calls about COVID-19

Ontario’s Telehealth system has been inundated with calls since mid-January as concern grows around the potential spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, officials say.

Since Jan. 25, there have been about 2,800 COVID-19-related calls, according to the Ministry of Health.

The influx of calls has left many on hold for longer periods of time than they’re used to.

Ministry of Health spokesperson David Jensen confirmed wait times are creeping up.

“The current average wait time to speak to a Telehealth representative is 89 seconds, an increase from 30 seconds in February 2020. The current average time for a call back from a registered nurse is 52 minutes, an increase from 36 minutes in February 2020,” Jensen said in an email.

In response to the increased number of calls, Jensen said Telehealth has increased staffing.

4 new coronavirus cases confirmed Monday

Meanwhile, Ontario health officials have announced four new cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the total in the province to 35.

One patient is a man in his 50s who recently travelled to Germany and was seen at Brampton Civic Hospital. The local health authority in Peel Region initially reported the case on Sunday, and the province confirmed it Monday morning.

The other two cases are a man in his 80s and a woman in her 70s who were recently in Iran and upon returning to Canada went to North York General Hospital.

At 5:30 p.m. Monday, Peel region reported a woman in her 30s had tested positive for the virus at Brampton Civic Hospital.

All four patients have been released into self-isolation.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the associate chief medical officer of health for the province, said there has been an increase in the number of people being tested daily for the novel coronavirus.

She said approximately 200 people are being tested daily, up from 40 to 60 per day in recent weeks.

Additionally, Yaffe said health officials are also conducting what’s known as “sentinel surveillance” — where patients showing up at emergency rooms with flu-like symptoms are also tested for COVID-19.

She said 750 such tests have been conducted so far and they have all been negative.

Yaffe provided the following breakdown on travel history — including close contacts of people who travelled to the affected area — of 34 of cases in Ontario:

  • 16 — Iran.
  • 5 — Egypt.
  • 4 — China (All resolved).
  • 3 — United States.
  • 2 — Italy.
  • 1 — Germany.
  • 1 — France.
  • 2 — Grand Princess Cruise.

At 5:30, Peel region announced a 35th case: a woman in her 30s who was diagnosed at Brampton Civic Hospital who contracted the virus from close contact. She is self-isolating.

Ontario is also ramping up screening and monitoring at long-term care homes.

The province decided Monday to issue guidance to facilities to put in place “active surveillance,” meaning staff, volunteers, visitors and residents who may come and go are checked for symptoms and asked about travel history.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said the province is now also doing COVID-19 testing on samples from long-term care homes where there is any respiratory outbreak.

He stressed that the advice to the general public about frequent hand washing and other protections isn’t just about people protecting themselves, but protecting the most vulnerable.

“If people are casual about their travel protection, casual about their contact protection and are less than vigilant on staying home when they’re ill and that kind of thing, then we can put that population at risk,” he said.

“By being vigilant, by keeping at that, you can protect them.”

Premier Doug Ford said Monday that every government ministry is putting together an emergency plan to deal with the spread of COVID-19 in order to be prepared.

“The worst thing to do is put a scare out there, everyone starts panicking,” Ford said during a visit to a tech hub in Kitchener, Ont.

“Even today, half of us didn’t know whether we were shaking hands or fist pumping or head bumping or whatever it might be. But we have to be cautious and we’re all over this.”


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