As the year progressed from its initial months until August, a gradual decline in COVID-19 cases was observed across Canada. However, recent indicators signal the emergence of a potential new wave of COVID-19 infections in the country. Alongside this worrisome trend, a notable rise in hospitalizations is being accompanied by discussions among disease experts regarding the distinctive nature of this wave compared to previous ones.
Hospitalizations on the Rise Again: The Public Health Agency of Canada’s data for August 15 revealed an 11% increase in COVID-related hospitalizations compared to the previous week. This resurgence in hospital admissions raises concerns about the evolving dynamics of the pandemic.
Unpredictable Nature of COVID-19: Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch noted that while certain seasonal factors might contribute to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases, the disease does not conform to the typical patterns of illnesses like the flu. Unlike the flu, COVID-19 remains present and active throughout the year, creating a complex challenge for healthcare systems and experts.
Dr. Bogoch stated, “COVID will wax and wane, but it always lingers in the background.”
Shifting Demographics and Hospital Stays: A distinct characteristic of this current wave is the demographic shift in hospitalized patients. Data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) reveals that patients in this wave are older, with a median age of 75, compared to 63 in the previous year. The average length of hospital stays has also extended from 13 to 20 days. Notably, despite the prolonged visits, the mortality rate has seen a 1% decrease.
Between April 2022 and March 2023, hospital stays for patients diagnosed with COVID-19 surged by 19% compared to the same period in the previous year.
Changes in Healthcare System Impact: While the increasing hospitalizations are concerning, the data from CIHI also points to a decrease in emergency visits for COVID-19. The number of visits to emergency departments due to the virus decreased from over 262,000 in the 2021-2022 reporting period to more than 222,000 in the subsequent period.
It’s important to note that the CIHI data excludes Quebec information.
Balancing Strain and Preparedness: Dr. Bogoch expressed optimism that the healthcare system might not experience the overwhelming challenges witnessed during the previous waves. He stated, “I don’t think we’re gonna see scenes like we saw in 2020 and 2021, where provinces were running out of intensive care unit beds, and we were bringing healthcare providers from other provinces in to help out.”
However, he emphasized that the healthcare system is still under considerable strain and urged increased support and attention to its needs.
A Call for Vigilance and Vaccination: To mitigate the pressures on the healthcare system and reduce the impact of COVID-19, Dr. Bogoch stressed the importance of vaccine updates and boosters, particularly for those most susceptible to severe infections. He highlighted the significance of protecting vulnerable groups overrepresented in hospitals due to severe virus manifestations.
“Those are the groups who are overrepresented in hospitals, and sadly, those are the people who are more likely to have severe manifestations like hospitalizations, ICU stays, or even death,” he emphasized.