Celebrate holidays safely and at a distance, urges head of St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital

The head of St. Thomas’s hospital is urging residents of Elgin County to celebrate the holidays responsibly as multiple regional outbreaks and steadily high case counts place the hospital’s already stretched capacity and taxed health-care staff at further risk of being overwhelmed.

In an open letter to the public Wednesday, Robert Biron, the president and CEO of St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital, called on residents to “rise to the challenge” for the fast-approaching holiday season by celebrating safely, responsibly and at a distance this year to curb the further spread of the coronavirus.

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The message comes ahead of what Biron says is expected to be a critical phase of the pandemic. Pushing further into the cold, winter months, health officials have expressed concern about a potential eruption of cases coming as a result of indoor holiday gatherings, including Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

“We know that fatigue with public health restrictions has set in, and that it is particularly painful to cancel traditional family gatherings – but this sacrifice pales in comparison to the pain of losing a loved one or watching them suffer,” Biron writes.

“No one is unaffected by COVID-19, and no one is exempt from doing their part”

Biron’s plea comes less than a week after the medical officer of health for Elgin and Oxford, Dr. Joyce Lock, warned that recent high daily case counts were predictive of increased hospitalizations and deaths, and increased restrictions from the province.

At least 46 cases were active in Elgin County alone as of Wednesday, including 21 in St. Thomas. The region’s health unit reported a record 19 new cases in both Elgin and Oxford on Friday. On Wednesday, a record 47 cases were reported in London-Middlesex.

As of this week, Elgin-Oxford is in the orange-restrict tier of the province’s COVID-19 Response Framework.

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Biron says such record case spikes, coupled with increasing cases and outbreaks at workplaces and schools — six school cases have been reported in Elgin County just this week, with four located in St. Thomas — are making it increasingly difficult for the hospital to provide exceptional care to those who need it.

In addition, outbreaks at long-term care facilities and at other area hospitals, such as London’s University Hospital, are putting even further strain on the region’s health-care system.

“If our hospital, emergency department and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) are full, it means that surgeries, procedures, diagnostic tests and routine care will have to be delayed, adding to a substantial backlog,” Biron writes.

“This risk affects all patients, not only those with COVID-19 – the postponement of cancer surgeries, for example, puts hundreds of our neighbours in harm’s way.”

In his letter, Biron also highlights the emotional and physical toll the pandemic has had on the hospital’s workforce, which he says has faced the challenges that have come from the coronavirus “with courage and compassion.”

“But as we have seen in other jurisdictions across the world, if public health measures are not adhered to by the community, it leads to dire consequences,” he writes.

“We stand behind them, and we call on everyone to join us by doing everything they can to curve the spread of the virus, save lives and limit the damage.”

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Aylmer has seen the largest number of COVID-19 cases in Elgin County during the pandemic, recording a total of 136 as of Wednesday, an incidence rate equivalent to 1,828 cases per 100,000 people.

In comparison, the incidence rate for the entirety of Peel Public Health is 1,840 per 100,000, while Toronto Public Health’s is 1,431.

Meanwhile, the incidence rate for London-Middlesex is 374 per 100,000 people, while Elgin-Oxford’s is 311.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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