Hospitals facing 'fragile situation' as COVID cases climb

·4 min read
An orderly looks on as nurses treat an intensive care patient at a Quebec hospital. The picture has been blurred to respect the patient's privacy. (Dave St-Amant/CBC - image credit)
An orderly looks on as nurses treat an intensive care patient at a Quebec hospital. The picture has been blurred to respect the patient's privacy. (Dave St-Amant/CBC - image credit)

Ottawa's hospitals are facing a potential tipping point as the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to climb, contributing to what one doctor characterized as "a fragile situation."

As of Wednesday there were 40 Ottawans in hospital for COVID-19 treatment, 11 of them in an ICU. Two weeks ago those numbers were 27 and six — and that's alongside everyone else needing hospital care.

Intensive care admissions hit an all-time high across Ontario this week and while Ottawa isn't yet at the same level as other areas, health officials say its local number is likely to rise because of more contagious and serious infection-causing coronavirus variants.

"We're still learning about what is different about the variants of concern," said Dr. Lindy Samson, chief of staff and chief medical officer for children's hospital CHEO, on Wednesday.

"We are concerned that younger people are going to become sicker if this progresses."

Ottawa's hospitals are at about 100 per cent capacity, she said.

"And that's as we're seeing a huge surge in activity of COVID infections across the city. That has us very worried. We are also very worried given that the variants of concern are now … such a high proportion of the new infections."

The load on hospitals is one of the reasons Ontario is expected to enter another provincewide shutdown. These interviews were done before Thursday's warnings from doctors and provincial advisors.

Hospitalizations continue to climb

There are plans in case Ottawa's hospitals become even more strained.

The city's hospitals are working together to not only take on extra patients, but to transfer patients between hospitals or even share staff, said Dr. Stéphane Roux, chief of staff with the Montfort Hospital.

"That's a fragile situation at this time," he said.

The worry is that hospitalizations will rise with the number of cases involving variants of concern.

The numbers are high. They are continuing to climb and may well exceed what we saw two, three months ago. - Dr. Greg Rose, Queensway-Carleton Hospital

That's not yet the case, according to Dr. Greg Rose, an infectious disease physician and the medical director of infection control at the Queensway-Carleton Hospital.

He said 50 per cent of Ottawa's current cases are variants of concern. A smaller share are in hospital.

"There's often a delay between when we start seeing cases of something in the community and when we start seeing people sick enough to need to be hospitalized," he said.

The number of hospitalizations also hasn't hit the city's pandemic peak from mid-April 2020 of 62 residents with COVID-19 in hospital or 20 in an ICU, though it is similar to the early autumn and winter surges.

<cite>(Ottawa Public Health)</cite>
(Ottawa Public Health)

Younger people being hospitalized

Rose said many of the patients he has seen in hospital are relatively young and healthy with no underlying medical conditions and not all have variants of concern.

He said more young people are being infected, likely due to a breakdown of people not wearing masks, physically distancing or avoiding gatherings.

"The things we've been recommending all along remain as valid now as they have at any point."

Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches said last month 25 per cent of hospitalizations since December were people in their 50s who are still months away from receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

People arrive for their vaccine appointment time at a COVID-19 clinic in Ottawa&#39;s Nepean Sportsplex on Tuesday. The city is still in the process of vaccinating residents aged 70 and older and likely won&#39;t get to some younger age groups for months.
People arrive for their vaccine appointment time at a COVID-19 clinic in Ottawa's Nepean Sportsplex on Tuesday. The city is still in the process of vaccinating residents aged 70 and older and likely won't get to some younger age groups for months.(Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Ottawa Public Health breaks down the 824 people with COVID-19 who have been in hospital by age, and about 30 per cent of its total have been younger than 60:

  • 123 people in their 50s,

  • 54 people in their 40s,

  • 46 in their 30s,

  • 17 in their 20s,

  • seven between the ages of 10 and 19,

  • and five children under the age of 10.

<cite>(Ottawa Public Health)</cite>
(Ottawa Public Health)

Three of the people in their 30s have been in hospital this week.

The youngest person in the city to die of the illness was in his 30s, while two people — including one earlier this week — were in their 40s.