Influx of long COVID patients might put further strain on health-care system: report

·3 min read
A new report, released by Public Health Ontario, finds hospitals could be strained by an increase in ER visits and patient care as more people deal with lingering effects of the virus. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
A new report, released by Public Health Ontario, finds hospitals could be strained by an increase in ER visits and patient care as more people deal with lingering effects of the virus. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

As Ontario grapples with a sixth wave of COVID-19, it's at risk of another potential strain on the health-care system even after current case counts come down, says a new report.

The report released by Public Health Ontario finds hospitals could be strained by an increase in ER visits, patient care, and need for rehabilitation teams as more people deal with lingering effects of the virus.

Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome (PACS), more commonly known as long COVID, is when a person still shows symptoms of the illness for more than three months after their initial recovery.

It's a situation one senior clinician says could have "a big impact" on the health-care system.

"I think it's really a huge issue for public health [and] for our economy," Dr. Angela Cheung, a senior scientist at Toronto's University Health Network, told CBC News.

Symptoms of long COVID vary widely, however some of the most commonly reported symptoms included fatigue, shortness of breath, abnormal heart rate, brain fog and sleep disturbances, the report noted.

While further research is needed to better understand the condition's characteristics, the data indicates that the condition is experienced by a "substantial" portion of the population, it added.

According to a report by the province's scientific advisory table in September, an estimated 57,000 to 78,000 people in Ontario have experienced long COVID.

University Health Network
University Health Network

Cheung says there is no updated figure of people with long COVID due to restricted testing, but anywhere between 10 to 50 per cent of people who have contracted the virus have had lingering effects.

Conservative estimates currently peg the number of Canadians with long COVID at around 360,000, Cheung says. This is based on the World Health Organization's estimate that at least 10 per cent of those infected with COVID-19 will experience the condition, and the fact that more than 3.6 million Canadians have contracted the virus.

Cheung says rehabilitation programs for people experiencing long COVID also need to be accelerated to meet the demand.

A Quebec study published in March found a high prevalence of post-COVID health issues among health-care workers who fell ill during the pandemic's first three waves.

The study suggests plenty of other health-care workers are also grappling with life-altering long COVID impacts, which could jeopardize their ability to work while putting strain on the health-care system, researchers say.

Cheung, who is also a lead investigator for the Canadian COVID-19 Prospective Cohort Study, is encouraging Ontarians to continue wearing their masks and trying to keep their physical contact to a minimum, despite the loosening of mask mandates in most indoor settings.

"Even if they're not concerned about getting so sick with COVID [that] they end up in the ICU, they should think about the possibility of getting long COVID," Cheung said.

"Some of these patients are quite debilitated, to the extent that they can't work. They can't go back to their full-time work."

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