COVID-19 clinics to open as doctors call for cases to be kept out of hospitals
‘Surge of cases appears inevitable’: Toronto doctor
By Adina Bresge
Doctors are warning that Canada needs to build capacity to screen for the new coronavirus outside hospitals or risk overwhelming emergency rooms and potential spread to medical workers and patients.
Physicians from eight Toronto hospitals published a paper in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Friday calling for potential COVID-19 cases to be tested at specialized clinics or at home as several communities work to set up such initiatives.
“Canada’s preparedness for COVID-19 must extend beyond hospitals, as a surge of cases appears inevitable,” writes Dr. Jerome Leis, medical director of infection prevention and control at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, with his co-authors.
The doctors work at hospitals that collectively tested 135 people for the virus between Jan. 20 and Feb. 19. They found the majority of patients were young and not very ill, and only one case came back positive.
The authors note that there are several barriers to community testing, including limited access to diagnostic testing and Ontario guidelines that require health-care workers use protective equipment that is hard to find outside hospitals.
Screening efforts stepped up
Still, there are several initiatives underway to ease the burden on emergency rooms as public-health officials in several areas step up their screening efforts in anticipation of a potential pandemic.
Quebec’s health minister told reporters earlier this week the province plans to designate medical clinics to assess potential COVID-19 cases, starting with sites in Montreal and Quebec City.
Ontario’s health ministry is working with Toronto authorities to set up COVID-19 assessment centres, a spokesman said in an email.
Michael Garron Hospital is preparing to open a screening clinic for the novel coronavirus at a nearby family medical centre in east-end Toronto later this month.
Stephen Beckwith, the executive director of the South East Toronto Family Health Team, said the clinic will have 14 rooms where patients will be isolated, assessed and tested.
If demand rises, Beckwith said the clinic is exploring ways to expand its capacity with “drive-through” testing, which will allow patients to be tested without leaving their cars, and virtual care.
In Renfrew Country, about an hour-drive west of Ottawa, health officials have proposed protocols to enlist the help of paramedics to test patients at home.
Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Calgary have received more than $1.6 million in federal funding to develop portable, bedside testing kits.
The total of confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Canada reached at least 51 on Friday. Health officials have said the risk posed by COVID-19 in this country remains low, but they are preparing for a possible outbreak similar to the ones seen in Iran, South Korea, Italy and China.