Health-care workers on edge as Omicron spurs sharp increase in cases
Health workers across Canada, exhausted from two years of battling a pandemic, are dreading what the next wave of COVID-19 could bring.
The country is seeing a sharp rise new in infections, a large proportion of which are Omicron cases.
But COVID-19 hospitalizations remain generally stable — for now.
According to Dr. Gerald Evans, we won’t be able to see the true impact of Omicron “for at least two or perhaps three weeks after those cases rise."
"And we're just getting to that point right now,” he said. “There’s still unfortunately time for us to sort of see that surge of cases, that might be related to Omicron, having to come into hospital for their care, but we haven't seen it to this point.”
Experts point to countries like Spain, where there has been a sharp increase in hospitalizations. But in South Africa, where scientists first identified the Omicron variant, hospitalizations are now dropping quickly.
Currently, Ontario's positivity rate is 9.7 per cent. It hasn’t been that high since May 3, when 889 people were in the ICU, and 16 deaths were reported. Right now, there are 164 patients in the ICU, and zero deaths were reported Monday.
The uncertainty of whether Omicron will spur more hospitalizations is keeping health-care workers on edge.
Compounding this is the vast majority of Canadian hospitals are already filled with Delta patients, with more still coming in for care.
There’s also been an increase in people with other health problems like heart attacks and strokes.
And health-care workers themselves are in short supply, burned out and fearful of what could be coming.
Eram Chhogala, a trauma nurse, told CTV News that she is dreading this next wave.
“What's going to happen next, is it going to be worse, is it going to be the same, what are we expecting?” she said. “And I think the other thing is, is our backup plan enough for the next surge of the variant?”
At least one Toronto hospital has cancelled non-essential surgery, offering only emergency care — with more likely to follow.
Manitoba, where ICUs are already full, is getting half a dozen extra nurses. But there are still some 2,200 vacancies to fill.
Across Canada, health-care workers are retiring or on stress leave, overwhelmed from two years of the pandemic.
“What scares me the most is that staff will be at a point where those who you need in the ICUs and other areas of the health-care system will not be able to perform their work,” Paul-Émile Cloutier, President and CEO of HealthCareCAN, told CTV News.
Whether or not Omicron will bring a huge rise in hospitalizations or not isn’t fully clear yet. But hospital workers are on the alert anyway.