Science table calls for health measures as Ontario hits 10,000 deaths linked to COVID-19

Science table calls for health measures as Ontario hits 10,000 deaths linked to COVID-19-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Paramedics transport a patient to Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto on Jan. 14, 2020. The province is now reporting it has reached 10,000 deaths linked to COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario confirmed 10,000 people with COVID-19 have now died during the course of the pandemic, while officials are also reporting 687 new cases of the virus on Tuesday.

The seven-day average for cases, which helps level out peaks and valleys in the data, now stands at 794, which is the highest it has been since June 5.

In a tweet Tuesday morning, Minister of Health Christine Elliott said people who aren’t fully vaccinated make up 23.6 per cent of the province’s total population, but account for close to half of Ontario’s reported cases today.

COVID-19 has claimed the lives of Ontarians from all age groups and walks of life, but it has hit older residents hardest, with about 5,900 people aged 80 and over dying due to the virus, according to Public Health Ontario (PHO) data.

The median age of deaths has decreased through each subsequent wave of the pandemic, provincial data shows. From the first wave to the fourth, it dropped from 85 years old to 74.

Long-term care residents have been disproportionately affected, with more than 40 per cent of all deaths in the province occurring in that population.

COVID-19 swept through long-term care homes in the first wave, leaving 1,937 residents dead in those first months — more than 32 per cent of all deaths in the province at that time, according to PHO.

Long-term care homes saw roughly the same number of deaths during the second wave, though by that time the virus was tearing its way through other populations and nursing home deaths represented 21 per cent of the second-wave total.

A report on the latest pandemic projections from the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, which is made up of a panel of experts that has provided modelling and public health advice over the course of the pandemic, also notes that people with lower incomes, essential workers and visible minorities have experienced the highest risk of COVID-19-related mortality.

Science table warns public health measures needed

In a new brief released Tuesday, the science table called for public health measures to mitigate any influxes of critically-ill patients.

The group says Ontario’s critical care system does not currently have the capacity to accommodate a surge of patients like it did during the second and third waves of the pandemic, thanks to worsening staffing shortages, worker burnout, and health system recovery efforts.

“Recent modelling suggests that there may be an increased number of patients with [COVID-19 related critical illness] alongside influenza over the 2021/2022 winter months, driving an increase in potential ICU admissions,” the group says.

“There is a growing ICU staffing shortage with increases in nurse vacancy rates in particular across the provinces’ ICUs. Burnout, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and in particular impacts nurses, is a significant contributor to staffing shortages.”

ICU-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
ICU health-care worker Jannikka Navaratnam cares for a patient inside a negative pressure room at the Humber River Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The group says that thanks to collaboration and coordination, the worst-case scenario — in which there wouldn’t be enough critical care capacity to care for people who need it during the pandemic — has so far been avoided.

But it will be harder for the system to rapidly increase capacity like it did during previous waves of COVID-19, the group says.

“It is imperative that public health measures that help to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2 as well as other infectious diseases with the potential to burden the healthcare system, including influenza, are in place over the coming months,” the brief reads.

“Public health measures will help in the short term; however, longer-term policies need to be simultaneously implemented to address the existing critical care staffing crisis. These combined efforts will help ensure that there is critical care capacity for all patients, COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 who require it, and reduce the burden on an already strained workforce.”

The brief does not state what specific public health measures the group would like to see, though it does mention that the use of masks, stay at home orders and adherence to hand hygiene has helped curb virus transmission.


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