From prisons to hospitals, public services are crumbling under the weight of Ommicron

Public sectors across the country are facing staffing shortages as Canada continues to deal with record numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations linked to the highly transmissible variant of Omicron.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said Thursday that about 20,000 health care workers were absent because they had tested positive or had been exposed to the virus. The government was working with unions to find more staff to care for around 2,500 COVID-19 patients, he added.

Health officials reported another 1,953 hospitalizations for COVID-19 on Thursday, an increase of nearly 12% from the previous day. Officials said there were 207 patients in intensive care, an increase of 16.

Also in Quebec, four federal prisons were “very close” to experiencing a staffing shortage as more workers tested positive for COVID-19.

“We are very close to it but we are not there yet. And I hope we don’t go there,” said Mario Guilmette, vice-president for the Quebec region of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.

Guilmette said the Correctional Service of Canada is working on a protocol to use if federal prisons in the province are understaffed. If the protocol is introduced, it means workers who are considered close contacts of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 could be asked to return to work after self-isolating for eight days instead of 10.

Correctional Service spokeswoman Marie Pier Lecuyer said in a statement that the agency did not have to return staff members who tested positive to work until they were fully recovered.

In the Atlantic region, New Brunswick hospitals were struggling to provide appropriate and timely care amid rising COVID-19 infections and high numbers of hospital staff. health who cannot work because of the virus.

The province’s health department said in a statement Thursday that hundreds of workers were self-isolating at home. Earlier this week the government released an official number of 571.

The New Brunswick Medical Society said hospitals across the province were already facing staffing shortages before the pandemic, which impacted the ability of workers to provide sufficient patient care.

Health workers, care home cooks, bus drivers: COVID cases affecting public services. #Covid19 #CDNPoli #OmicronVariant

In Ontario, outbreaks in long-term care homes were causing staff absences of 20-30% in some areas.

Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips said there were outbreaks Thursday in 186 homes in 30 of Ontario’s 34 public health units.

He said his ministry has been in contact with homes struggling with staff as the Omicron variant forces people into self-isolation.

“Staffing in long-term care remains a concern,” Phillips said during a virtual press conference on a local jobs program. “This is an area that we are in daily contact with individual homes (approximately).”

The president of a union representing long-term care workers in the province spoke of the desperate measures taken to rally workers.

“Because Ontario has failed to plan, over 1,000 nursing home staff are on sick leave right now, forcing nursing homes to desperately recruit from fast food chains. “said Sharleen Stewart, President of SEIU Healthcare.

Homes have asked fast food workers to replace kitchen staff who cannot work, she said.

The isolation due to the upsurge in cases of the Omicron variant was also putting pressure on some fire, transit and police departments.

The city of Prince Rupert in northwestern British Columbia said in a statement that eight of its 20 firefighters were absent due to COVID-19. The city added that the department is managing shortages but, if necessary, will rely on an agreement with the nearby Port Edward Volunteer Fire Department to help.

Winnipeg Transit was using alternate operators and overtime to cover shifts, and the city said schedules for some routes would be reduced.

Mississauga, Ont., has also temporarily suspended some services due to staffing shortages. The city said the reductions will be in effect until further notice.

The Winnipeg Police Service declared an internal state of emergency on Wednesday due to a staffing shortage while police services in Edmonton and Calgary warned of staffing issues.

A small First Nation in northern Ontario has lost many essential workers as a COVID-19 outbreak has infected nearly half of its 400 residents. He declared a state of emergency and requested military assistance.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Derek Fox said many essential workers at Bearskin Lake First Nation are either sick with the virus or self-isolating at home.

Community member Charles Fox said water and sewer truck drivers should come to work when they test positive but are working alone.

“We need the military to come in and provide the labor for loading cargo, distribution supplies, baskets, and we need people to drive everyone to the swab center,” said- he declared.

— With files from Erika Ibrahim in Ottawa, Kevin Bissett in Fredriction, Holly McKenzie-Sutter and Maan Alhmidi in Toronto

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 6, 2022.

This story was produced with financial assistance from Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.