As the mayors in Peel Region make a push to reopen in the red zone when the stay-at-home order is lifted, the head of a hospital network said Friday he is on the fence about the move.
Dr. Naveed Mohammad, the president and chief executive officer of William Osler Health System, told CP24 he is concerned that hard-won gains during the lockdown would get wiped by a surge of COVID-19 variants.
"I am significantly worried about the variants that are out there. The variants are much more infectious, and they can cause an illness that is more severe than the original COVID-19 virus. So, I'm not sure if going to a red zone on March 9 would be the best thing to do," Mohammad said.
"I wouldn't say yes or no at this point… I would really look to next week and see where the numbers are before we can comfortably make a decision."
On Thursday, the Regional Council of Peel threw its support behind a motion, recommending that the region skip the most restrictive category in the province's reopening framework and be allowed to enter the red zone, which would permit more businesses and restaurants to open. This is only possible if the case counts remain low, and it is supported by Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel Region's medical officer of health.
On Wednesday, Loh said it is too early to determine if his region can join the red zone.
Peel is expected to move back to the framework along with Toronto and North Bay-Parry Sound after the extended stay-at-home order is lifted on March 8.
The region has seen a decline in COVID-19 numbers, including in hospitalizations. However, Mohammad warned that the drop in admissions could be attributed to emergency orders being extended in Peel Region and the incident management system, which allows hospitals burdened with COVID-19 patients to transfer them to other facilities.
"Some of our lower numbers maybe a bit of a red herring because we are sending excess patients out to other hospitals. Since November, we have transferred more than 330 patients to other hospitals to receive care," he said.
"The transfer rate has decreased, but we're still keeping our head above water with these transfers."
The opening of a new hospital in Vaughan is also one of the reasons why ICU numbers have decreased. Mohammad noted that it had been a system-wide effort to stabilize the situation.
"So most definitely, our numbers are down. Most definitely positivity rate is down, and positive cases are down. But I do want to caution that the fact that we are all working together as a health care system that may be another factor in reducing the number of cases, and I would tread very carefully before the province makes any further decisions on the region," Mohammad said.
On Thursday, provincial modellers said the variants will likely make up 40 per cent of all new COVID-19 cases in Ontario by the second week of March and will cause hospitalizations and ICU admissions to climb soon.
Peel Region currently has 84 confirmed cases of variants of concern.
- with files from Beatrice Vaisman