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Health officials in southwestern Ontario are warning the public about strained acute care and hospital capacity issues.

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit – along with three local hospitals and the local paramedics – say there’s been a recent surge in both COVID-19 patients and other respiratory ailments.

They say patients should expect wait times and treatment for anything other than emergencies will be much longer than usual.

They are asking patients who do not have emergencies to seek care elsewhere, such as family doctors and clinics, to help alleviate the hospitals.

They say they are also seeing a dramatic increase in young children with severe respiratory issues needing an immediate higher level of care.

The group says during the last two months the Windsor Regional Hospital had to transfer 11 children with respiratory syncytial virus to either London, Ont., or Detroit hospitals.

That is up from three over the same time frame last year, and generally for children two years or younger.

“The reason for this sudden increase is unknown other than to recognize that respiratory viruses not directly related to COVID-19 are still with us and we need to be cognizant of them in our daily lives,” the group said in a statement.

The region is also being hit hard by COVID-19 with increasing community spread, the local health unit said.

Over the last week, the area has seen a seven-day rate of 123 cases per 100,000 population, among the highest in the province.

“A large percentage of these cases requiring hospitalization are unvaccinated,” the group said.

The COVID-19 test positivity rate for the region is 8.3 per cent, compared to three per cent for the province as a whole, the group said.

“Erie Shores HealthCare notes that the COVID-19 per cent positivity from individuals being tested at its COVID-19 Assessment Centre is about 15 per cent over the past week,” the group said.

It says one of the best ways to help is to stay out of the hospital, and vaccination against COVID-19 does just that.

“We must work to preserve capacity in our health-care system for patients,” the group said.

“Our local partners will continue to collaborate to ensure our regional system is able to handle an influx of patients that will challenge our capacity to ensure timely access to care.”

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