Jennie Stevens MPP, St. Catharines

Government of Ontario

Niagara hospital deaths hit 16 this month among COVID patients

Published on January 11, 2022

Niagara Health says 141 patients with COVID are being treated in hospital, including 24 in intensive care

Sixteen patients with COVID-19 have died in Niagara hospitals already this year, according to data from Niagara Health.

For the second time this week, the hospital system announced Tuesday that five more patients had died. It said three died Jan. 10 and the other two on Jan. 7 but were previously unreported.

It said all five were Niagara residents, but didn’t specify if they were being treated primarily for COVID-19 or for another condition.

Niagara Health on Tuesday had 141 patients with COVID-19 in hospital, including 91 being treated primarily for the virus and 50 there primarily for other conditions.

That’s more patients with COVID-19 than at any other time during the pandemic. Niagara Health said 91 are fully vaccinated and 45 are unvaccinated.

Of the 24 in intensive care, it reported 14 are unvaccinated.

Based on reports from Niagara Health and Niagara Region Public Health, it’s believed about 465 Niagara residents with COVID-19 have died since March 2020.

Public health listed a smaller number on its website, but that reporting has lagged as more hospital deaths were announced.

“If you think about how many COVID-19 cases are going around now, I guess that kind of puts it in perspective,” said acting medical officer of health Dr. Mustafa Hirji.

“We’ve had several thousand cases this month as opposed to just maybe past months where we only had a few hundred.”

Public health data showed there were 5,587 active local COVID-19 cases Tuesday. However, due to limited testing and case management the real number is believed to be at least two or three times larger.

Niagara Health postponed many non-urgent surgeries and procedures, and last week temporarily closed Fort Erie urgent care to redeploy staff to other sites.

The hospital system is working through widespread staff shortage due to people either infected or isolating after possible exposure.

It added eight critical care beds after reaching maximum capacity in the ICU, and increased its inpatient acute-care capacity to deal with the growing number of patients.

Other hospital systems are facing similar pressures.

Tuesday, Hamilton Health Sciences was expected to outline what it called “extraordinary measures” to deal with its caseload and staff shortage.

Meanwhile, a pop-up clinic to hand out free COVID-19 rapid antigen test kits this week was fully booked before most Niagara residents even knew it existed.

Late Monday evening, the provincial government scheduled clinics to be held Thursday and Friday at Brock University, by appointment only.

By mid-morning Tuesday, all appointments to pick up the 2,000 kits were spoken for.

“It’s imperative that we get more rapid antigen tests into the hands of residents. The rollouts to Niagara and St. Catharines have been performative at best,” said St. Catharines NDP MPP Jennie Stevens.

The roving clinics were started by the province in mid-December, at municipalities across Ontario to help counter the fast spread of infections driven by Omicron variant.

During the first week, two were held in Niagara — both in St. Catharines — and kits were scooped up quickly.

While clinics continued nearly ever day since across the province, no more were held in Niagara.

On Monday morning, The Standard inquired about the lack of local clinics to the Ontario Ministry of Health.

It didn’t respond to emailed questions, but by Monday night the two clinics at Brock had been added to the list. A ministry spokesperson still hadn’t responded as of mid-afternoon Tuesday.

Stevens called it “a clear pattern of ignoring this region, whether it be access to testing or vaccines.”

Earlier this week, she called for Niagara to be added to the list of sites where the provincial government would open clinics to provide booster shots to education and child-care workers.

Of the 10 locations named, the closest was Hamilton. Stevens called that unreasonable for Niagara.

“Our education workers are still teaching throughout the day and we cannot expect them to drive almost 100 kilometres to get their booster shot,” she said in a statement she released Monday.