Low ICU admissions, high vaccination rate so far during Omicron in Ottawa

·3 min read
Some Ontario intensive care units have already been hit hard by the influx of patients due to Omicron, but Ottawa-area hospitals have yet to see the same impact as of early January. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Some Ontario intensive care units have already been hit hard by the influx of patients due to Omicron, but Ottawa-area hospitals have yet to see the same impact as of early January. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

While Ottawa hasn't yet hit its peak in the current Omicron-fuelled wave of COVID-19, this city is faring better than other areas of the province with continued low ICU admissions in Ottawa hospitals, according to a local expert.

The capital started this wave with fewer known active cases and higher vaccination rates than many other areas of Ontario, which "makes a big difference now," said Dr. Doug Manuel, a senior scientist with The Ottawa Hospital who tracks local COVID-19 data.

There were just three people with COVID-19 in intensive care in Ottawa-area hospitals as of Thursday's report from Ottawa Public Health (OPH).

Public Health Ontario reported 319 people with COVID-19 in ICUs across the province, which was up from 288 the day before and 200 one week earlier. Areas like Toronto and Hamilton have also seen surges of COVID patients in their intensive care units.

As of Thursday, OPH also reported a total of 35 local residents in Ottawa hospitals due to COVID-19, including the three ICU patients, which is relatively low compared to other Ontario health units.

Hospitals themselves have reported dozens more patients with COVID-19 — The Ottawa Hospital reported 71 in its three hospitals on Wednesday, for example — because they also count those who were admitted with other illnesses and contracted COVID-19 as a secondary condition, as well as patients transferred from other regions.

WATCH: Why hospital and public health numbers often don't match when it comes to COVID-19 patients:

Change coming to reporting COVID-19 cases in hospital

Ontario's ministry of health says it will soon begin publishing data that differentiates between patients admitted to hospital due to COVID-19 and those who test positive for the virus while in hospital for unrelated reasons.

"[Hospitals] may count people who tested positive [after being admitted], but we on our dashboard want to show how much severe illness is there, and so that's how we are presenting the information," said Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health.

No matter how you break down the hospitalization numbers, Manuel says the vaccine has helped limit the effect on hospitals in Ottawa to this point where, as of Wednesday's report, 83 per cent of the population five and older has received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. That number jumps to 90 per cent if you only include residents 12 and up.

Omicron has hit hospitals hard due to staffing shortages, though.

"The good news is the vaccines are working for severe infection. Bad news: it's still taking out a lot of our staff and the ability to work," said Manuel.

"The vaccine effectiveness for ICU and hospitalization is really holding up. So it could be worse. But we've got some new twists. We've got some new challenges. And staffing is a major, major one."

Submitted by Doug Manuel
Submitted by Doug Manuel

Ottawa could look to Kingston

In Kingston, the Omicron wave caused case numbers to explode in December, but officials in that city are now optimistic infections could be levelling out.

"The good news is our ICU numbers are not really shooting up at all," said Dr. Gerald Evans, a physician and infectious disease specialist at Queen's University.

Dr. Piotr Oglaza, the medical officer of health for Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health, also says he's hopeful "the impact of Omicron will be blunted by the protection against severe illness that vaccination provides."

That could present a sign of optimism as Ottawa watches to see when the city will reach its peak in COVID-19 hospitalizations, as well as monitor rising levels of the virus in its wastewater.

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