Ontario recruiting internationally trained healthcare workers and students to expand hospital capacity

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Ontario is calling on internationally trained healthcare workers and nursing students to expand hospital capacity in the fight against COVID-19.

Health Minister Christine Elliott made the announcement on Tuesday, saying the Ontario government is recruiting nursing students and medical students to assist in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

The province is working with Ontario Health and the Colleges of Nurses of Ontario to deploy some 700 nurses to hospitals, and Elliott said more than 1,200 applicants have expressed interest in the program.

The province’s healthcare system has been under growing strain in recent weeks due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which has also caused staffing shortages.

Ontario reported 7,951 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, but case counts are likely an underestimate due to limited testing capacity.

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 has also skyrocketed and there has been an overall surge in infections.

More than 3,200 people in the province are hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday with a record number of adults with the virus admitted to intensive care units over the last day.

At least 465 of those patients are in intensive care units according to data from the Ontario Health Association (OHA), with a record 80 adults admitted to Ontario ICUs on Monday.

Another 21 deaths occurred in the past month, and over 53 per cent of all hospital patients in Ontario tested positive for COVID-19 and 82 per cent of ICU patients have the virus.

Elliott said the province will be updating Ontario’s COVID-19 reporting to distinguish patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 “from those admitted for other reasons” who test positive for the virus.

The province announced Ontario schools will return to in-class learning on Monday, Jan. 17 and Education Minister Stephen Lecce is scheduled to hold a press conference on Wednesday alongside Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore.

Ontario has committed to deploy additional HEPA filter units to school boards and N95 masks for staffers, but when asked why the province is returning to in-person learning and what has changed over the last few days.