Fatality rate among COVID-19 patients in ICU is triple the pre-pandemic rate: Ontario data

Fatality rate among COVID-19 patients in ICU is triple the pre-pandemic rate-Ontario data-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Medical staff in the ICU at the Humber River Hospital in Toronto turn a COVID-19 patient who is intubated and on a ventilator from his back to his stomach. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The death rate among Ontario intensive care patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 is triple the pre-pandemic fatality rate, according to a new report obtained by CBC News. 

Ontario preparing to transfer hospital patients out of regions worst-hit by COVID-19

The report from Critical Care Services Ontario, the agency that co-ordinates the work of hospital ICUs, tallies 1,034 patients who have died since the start of the pandemic while critically ill from COVID-19.

That’s 31 per cent of all the COVID-19 patients who’ve been admitted to intensive care in the province’s hospitals.

“That’s just a shocking number,” said Dr. Michael Warner, medical director of critical care at Toronto’s Michael Garron Hospital.

“It just emphasizes that these (COVID-19) patients are far sicker than the average patient that we care for, and unfortunately, their outcomes are much poorer as well,” said Warner in an interview.

Michael Warner-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Dr. Michael Warner is medical director of critical care at Toronto’s Michael Garron Hospital. (Kas Roussy/CBC News)
The average fatality rate among intensive care patients in Canada before the pandemic was 9 per cent, according to research by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

The new Ontario report shows that nearly two-thirds of the COVID patients who died in ICUs were in their 60s or 70s.

More patients have died during Ontario’s second wave of the pandemic (618 since Sept. 1) than in the first (416 patients before Sept. 1), according to the data. The fatality rates have been comparable during each wave: 34 per cent during the first, and 29 per cent so far in the second.

Although treatments for COVID-19 have improved since the pandemic began, Warner said it remains a struggle to keep patients alive.

“I do feel quite powerless, much more powerless than I have with any other disease that I’ve treated,” he said. “I think the mortality data is a reflection of that.”

An intubated COVID-19 patient-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
An intubated COVID-19 patient breathes with the assistance of a ventilator in the ICU at the Humber River Hospital in Toronto on Dec. 9, 2020. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)


Some Ontario hospitals, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area, have seen their intensive care units fill to capacity this month, forcing them to transfer patients as far away as Kingston. There have been nearly 600 patient transfers to spread the burden around, according to the Ontario Hospital Association, many of them by Ornge air ambulance.

The total number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs around the province grew steadily through the fall and peaked on Jan. 12 with 420, but that trend levelled off in the past two weeks. The latest figures from Critical Care Services Ontario showed 400 COVID-19 patients in Ontario hospitals on Wednesday.

Modelling earlier this month had indicated the province could have 600 to 800 COVID-19 patients in intensive care by early February, if cases continued to grow at the pace Ontario was seeing right after the holiday period. Together with non-COVID patients, that would mean all ICUs filled to capacity.

However, the average daily number of new cases peaked on Jan. 11 at 3,555  and is now down to 2,128, lower than it’s been since mid-December.

Officials are scheduled to provide updated pandemic modelling at a news conference on Thursday afternoon.


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