SUDBURY -- Health Sciences North President and CEO Dominic Giroux says this Easter weekend will be important for Northern Ontario.

"Our view is that this long weekend could be the make or break weekend, and it's important for northerners to stay at home so we can really flatten the COVID-19 curve and if we don't, the curve could go straight up," said the CEO. 

Giroux, one of Sudbury's top health professionals, says they're worried the weather could be nice and many people might not be as disciplined over the coming days when it comes to physical isolation.

"The reality is we don't know who might carry the virus without having symptoms so my plea to northerners is this, we don't want to see you in the hospital a week from now over what you might be doing on the long weekend," said Giroux.  

His comments come on the heels of the Public Health Agency of Canada releasing its projections about the virus. According to modelling, 11,000 to 22,000 Canadians could die in the coming months. Roughly 500 to 700 are expected to die within the week.

"We've reviewed the provincial projections very carefully, and applied either the share of the population whether for Northeastern Ontario or for Sudbury and Districts Public Health area, we've also applied the prevalence rate that we're seeing for cases in Sudbury and Districts Public Health area which is so far lower than the rest of the province, but to be able to determine what we can expect in the future over the coming days," said Giroux.

Health Sciences North has developed 'surge' plans in the event the hospital sees an influx of patients, but Giroux says they'd rather not have to implement them if possible.

As of Wednesday evening, the hospital had 21 patients in critical care, five of them were confirmed to have COVID-19, while 16 are still under investigation.

According to their figures, of the five positive cases, one of them is in critical care on a ventilator, one is in paediatrics and three are outside critical care.

Giroux adds 24 patients are still under investigation, four of those are critical care.

"It's one thing to look at the number of confirmed cases, which can vary on the number of tests that are performed in a jurisdiction, but what we see as a lagging indicator is the number of hospitalizations. The number of hospitalizations in critical care departments across the north and across the province, and that's what we keep a very close eye on," said Giroux.

He says it's important for people in the region not to become complacent. While it's true things haven't been as dramatic as other parts of the world, to keep it that way, he says everyone has to continue to follow the directions of public health.

"I don't want to paint a picture that is completely pessimistic. There are some reassuring trends. For example, we have 13 patients who we suspected of having COVID-19 and they tested negative," said Giroux.

According to Giroux's latest figures, over a hundred employees and members of the medical staff have been tested and have come back negative,   .

Health Sciences North currently has about 11 unresolved cases, which he adds is about four times lower than the provincial trend. He also says there are other reassuring trends, but people need to do everything they can to keep it that way.

Admissions are down, which has helped add capacity at the facility. After cancelling all elective surgeries and procedures, the current occupancy rate is about 313 patients, well under the 100 per cent capacity threshold of 471.

"Our frontline staff and medical staff are exceptional. They have been preparing diligently over the last few weeks. They have reviewed the protocols to ensure their own safety, the safety of their colleagues and the safety of their patients who come to the hospital. But they're anxious. They're anxious about availability of adequate supply of personal protective equipment. They're anxious about contaminating themselves, contaminating their loved ones," said Giroux.

As far as PPE equipment goes, they're required to respond to the Ministry of Health to report daily on inventory and to escalate any incidence where they might have less than a 14-day supply. Right now, the only item the hospital is short on is hand sanitizer, and they're working on a contingency plan. Three weeks from now, if there has been no delivery, there may be a shortage of a few items, but so far, the supply chain continues to keep them stocked.

"One area of concern that we do have is emergency care. We're hearing from patients that they're scared about going to the hospital, perhaps delaying a visit. We really want to ensure the public that the emergency department is open 24/7," said Giroux. "Northerners should know their hospitals have sound surge plans in place, including for critical care, to provide care to an influx of COVID-19 patients. But, they also need to know this long-weekend could be the 'make or break' weekend. And it's very important that northerners stay at home, not travel, wash their hands, not touch their face and follow other directions from public health authorities.