Kieran Moore urges mask and vaccines as surge in viral illnesses continues to slam children’s hospitals


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Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health is urging people to get vaccinated and wear masks – especially around children under four – as the extraordinary increase in serious viral illnesses that have hit CHEO and other pediatric hospitals is expected to worsen.

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Despite growing calls for him to reinstate province-wide mask mandates to protect vulnerable children, Dr. Kieran Moore has remained steadfast in educating the public about the “triple threat” of influenza, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and strong recommendations on masking, vaccination and other public health measures. He said he was assessing the situation daily and had not ruled out mask mandates.

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The surge has filled every pediatric intensive care bed in the province, mostly with critically ill children under the age of five on ventilators and is causing pediatric surgeries to be postponed and historic waits in emergency departments.

« The difficult and complex downfall that was predicted has materialized as we face three dangerous virus threats, » he said. « All three are circulating and continuing to put pressure on the pediatric healthcare system. »

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Even minor sniffles in an adult could turn into a serious respiratory illness in a very young child, he said, which is why Moore encouraged people to mask up inside their homes to protect young children. vulnerable.

« It really depends on the families. »

But many health officials and others say it’s clear that simply urging people to wear masks or placing the blame on families isn’t working.

« I think people have gotten so used to not wearing masks that without a warrant they won’t, » said Dr. Miriam Mottiar, an anesthesiologist and palliative care physician from Ottawa, mother of children from school age and mother of seven months. old baby. « I think we’re at a point where without a mask mandate, a child is going to die. »

Mottiar said his two older children continue to wear masks at school to protect their younger brother, but masking is far from the norm in schools.

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« I would like someone to take responsibility. When it was bad in adult hospitals, we locked ourselves in and people wore masks. People were ready to step in and make sacrifices. It seems that the people are not willing to make the same sacrifices for children.

University of Ottawa epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan, who is the father of a toddler, said by the time the viruses enter the house, « it’s too late. » Universal masking slows community spread, even if compliance isn’t perfect.

“You don’t solve a community problem with individual action. I understand the political hesitation,” he said. « (But) just saying we’re encouraging people to do it isn’t enough. »

Deonandan said masks could be made mandatory in healthcare facilities and child care centers as a step towards normalizing their wider use.

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Moore said provincial officials are discussing mandatory mask-wearing, particularly in daycares, if the situation continues to escalate, but noted he does not have the authority to institute mandatory mask-wearing in the schools.

« They can go to their local medical officer of health, » he said of the school boards.

Meanwhile, the province is further increasing the capacity of pediatric intensive care units to 150% of current capacity, he said. This expansion has already happened at CHEO, which opened a second pediatric intensive care unit in its medical day unit more than a week ago after its PICU reached nearly 200% capacity.

For weeks, CHEO officials have implored members of the public to wear masks to help reduce transmission of the viruses that are making so many young children so sick and overwhelming the hospital.

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In addition to urging people to resume protective layers, including masks, flu and COVID shots, hand washing, avoiding crowds and keeping surfaces clean, provincial health officials meet daily to « ensure that we are maximizing the resources of our health care system, » including finding children’s beds across the province, said Dr. Chris Simpson, senior vice president, Medicine, Ontario Health.

He said the situation is « unlike anything we’ve seen in the pediatric system in recent memory. »

Several medical officers of health said they preferred the province to introduce warrants. Although they have the power to do so under provincial public health legislation, they say it is difficult to enforce and the rules are patchy across the province.

Ottawa Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches said she would support local businesses and organizations that impose mask mandates – something the Ottawa Carleton District School Board did earlier this year after the abandonment of provincial mandates. He debates the issue again.

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