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Report on Hamilton’s COVID response shows unprecedented level of mobilization of a disparate health care system

Resources pulled in from across community to meet crisis

Looking at a timeline of the COVID pandemic in Hamilton from early 2020 to the end of 2022. One can’t help but be struck with the pace of mobilization that Hamilton Public Health Services oversaw to address the pandemic. The Timeline for 2020 in particular—the year in which the disease was spreading rapidly with neither vaccine nor a reliable treatment was most striking. It’s all in a report by Hamilton Public Health that explores lessons learned by the department during the pandemic.

“We’re attempting to assemble and re-engineer a Boeing 747 in mid-flight.”

Kevin McDonald Director of Healthy Environments Division and COVID-19 Communications Chief

On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization declared a global COVID pandemic and the same day Hamilton recorded its first case of the virus. Health staff had been meeting  for weeks prior to that after the first word of COVID started coming out of China in December 2019. The first meeting of the newly-formed  Health Sector Emergency  Management  Committee was held January 28th. Looking at 2020, one sees repeated declarations of states of emergency and various lockdown protocols, followed by attempts to ease restrictions. That pattern continued throughout the year as the first vaccines didn’t arrive in Hamilton until December of 2020 and then in initially only limited quantities.

By March of 2021 there was sufficient vaccine to start opening large scale public vaccination clinics. Over the next two months more clinics were opened across the city. The numbers show the scale of the mobilization that eventually involved the entire health care system in Hamilton. Over the next  more than a year-and-a-half, more than 1.5 Million vaccination’s were administered and over half a million COVID tests conducted—the largest mass immunization project in history—and the first since the polio vaccine rollout in the 1950s.

The report, which is going to Board of Health, points largely to successes, but also identifies areas where improvements can be made. A key recommendation was the need to  address staff burnout that occurred during the prolonged and intense crisis. The report recommended better mental health supports for health workers experiencing burnout. It also recommended de-escalation training for public-facing staff to address a sometimes unruly sector of the public that occasionally became violent.

The report suggested there were times when coordination and communication could have been better, especially in the face of COVID disinformation that was constantly circulating during the crisis. Overall though, the sheer volume of tests and vaccinations that were accomplished with staff, most of whom had no previous experience with a pandemic speaks for itself.

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