Doctors are sounding the alarm about increasingly permissive attitudes about COVID-19 among some people, amid reports that the Omicron variant is less severe than previous incarnations.
The warning comes as the variant continues to spread rapidly across Canada, and amid evidence that it is linked to less serious outcomes — especially among people who got two doses of the vaccine.
Dr David Goldfarb, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at British Columbia Children’s Hospital, said “epidemic fatigue” was becoming very real, and that changing conditions had led many people to increase their tolerance for risk.
“A lot of people have firsthand experience, and sometimes that can change people’s perception of risk,” he said, as well as high vaccination rates.
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This differs from previous waves of the pandemic in that we will see more serious consequences when we were not completely immune. Now we’re seeing more people getting vaccinated, and they’re going to have a different experience when they get this infection for sure.”
But while the odds of hospitalization or death may be reduced, doctors warn that it’s not zero, and the sheer number of omicron cases means that even with reduced severity, many people will still get seriously ill.
As of Friday, there were 97 people with COVID in British Columbia’s critical care units, and the province has reported six more deaths.
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British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said the province was seeing between 45 and 50 new admissions of COVID-19 per day.
“If I told you that only three percent of that population might end up in hospital, on an individual level, you have no idea whether you would be in the three percent or 97 percent,” Family Physician and Global BC medical contributor Dr. Birndar Narang.
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Ontario has reported 3,814 patients with COVID in hospital, 527 in intensive care units.
Much also remains unknown about the long-term effects of the virus — a message that Vancouver resident Katie MacLean says people should take seriously.
McClain contracted COVID-19 in September 2020, and is among the millions of people worldwide who have developed “long COVID,” a poorly understood group of symptoms and conditions that can persist long after the virus is gone.
“I couldn’t work, I basically couldn’t do anything I had done in my previous life. I have a number of diagnoses now,” she told Global News.
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“Even something as simple as taking a shower and washing my hair is enough to wipe me away all day.”
McLean has developed a “washing list” of persistent medical problems, along with heart and nerve damage, and says she suffers from brain fog and chronic fatigue syndrome.
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Early statistics from the UK show that up to 10 per cent of COVID cases can lead to long-term symptoms, and doctors don’t know why some people get it and some don’t.
“It’s too dangerous to throw caution to the wind like that and not try to protect yourself,” MacLean said.
“Because listen, my life has been completely turned upside down and derailed, I don’t know what my future will be like anymore, and I don’t know the long-term effects of this virus on my body.”
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Beyond the risks faced by individuals, Goldfarb said people need to continue to think about the broader implications of COVID transmission.
Labor shortages associated with COVID are becoming increasingly prevalent, and are of particular concern in the health care system.
“At Children’s Hospital, that’s the main challenge we’re facing, which is that there are a lot of health care workers and others who support the system that are out of business,” he said.
We want to do everything we can to slow the transition during this wave and we don’t have additional cases. You never know who might be exposed.”
Henry said Friday that she believes the county may have reached the peak of community transmission of the Omicron variant this past weekend.
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