Hospitalizations are rising thanks to Omicron, but future impact is uncertain: experts – National

Unprecedented levels of COVID-19 across Canada are also leading to hospitalizations and again threatening many provincial health care systems.

However, experts say it is too early to say how much hospitalization will be in the coming days and weeks. With testing capacity at breaking point and data still coming in about the severity of Omicron, they say modeling this latest wave will require updating their methodology.

“We are flying blind,” said Caroline Cullen, a professor of mathematics at Simon Fraser University, who has been designing the pandemic in British Columbia.

“There’s a good chance that by the time we have a clearer picture of where we are and where we might be headed, we could be in the middle of a big situation for the health care system.”

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Almost every province sets new record for COVID-19 cases as Omicron sweeps across Canada

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Hospitalization has long been a late indicator in the epidemic, with an increase in patient intake usually weeks after cases began rising.

This latest Omicron-fueled wave was no different. While cases began to increase significantly at the beginning of December, the number of hospitalized cases began to rise two weeks later.

There are now more than 2,700 hospitalized patients with COVID-19, including nearly 500 in intensive care, a level last seen last October.

The increase was largely driven by Ontario and Quebec, where the number of cases exceeded 10,000 per day. In Quebec alone, hospital admissions doubled in just one week, with 939 patients receiving care as of Thursday.

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But the sudden rise in the number of lab-confirmed infections — including 39,700 on Thursday — has created a perfect storm of unpredictability of what will happen next.

As Omicron has proven more transmissible, testing capacity has been pushed to the limit, with health officials warning that the number of official cases is likely to be undercounted. And with rapid at-home tests becoming increasingly popular, not all positive results from these test kits have been reported to public health, creating data gaps.

Meanwhile, research suggests that Omicron may not lead to as many hospitalizations as the more severe delta variant. A public health study in Ontario released Thursday found that, on average, the risk of hospitalization or death was 54 percent lower in Omicron cases than in Delta cases.

The problem, Colin points out, is that the potential for lower hospital admissions may not be good news if cases explode at the current rate.

“Even with a low hospitalization rate, if you have 20,000 or 30,000 cases a day or more, it’s likely to send a lot of people to hospital,” she said.

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Omicron cases rise across Canada

Omicron cases rise across Canada

The modeling released so far doesn’t bode well for the rest of the country. The research institute, which reports to the Quebec government, said Thursday that its modeling predicts “significant growth in new hospitals and consequent occupancy of regular and intensive care beds over the next three weeks.”

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The National Institute for Excellence in Services and Social Services said its models show that there could be between 1,600 and 2,100 patients with COVID-19 outside of intensive care units over the next three weeks. She said there could also be between 300 and 375 patients in the intensive care unit during that time.

The worst-case scenarios – 2,100 regular COVID-19 patients and 375 patients in the intensive care unit – would exceed anything recorded during previous waves of the pandemic.

Counties have also begun to report greater numbers of health care workers who have tested positive for COVID-19, forcing them to isolate and be discharged from hospitals they need.

Read more:

Omicron is less severe than Delta Ontario study indicates as COVID cases rise across Canada

At least one hospital in Ontario, the Queensway Carlton in Ottawa, said Wednesday it would slow some services after 40 employees tested positive for COVID-19.

Quebec and Ontario this week shortened the isolation period for these workers from 10 days to seven in order to prevent staff shortages. Manitoba and British Columbia said they were considering similar steps, while Alberta announced it would allow unvaccinated health workers to return to work, provided they undergo rigorous testing.

Daniel Coombs, an epidemiology modeling expert at the University of British Columbia, notes that even as Omicron pushes infections skyward, the delta variant is still prevalent across the country and is still responsible for many of the current hospitalizations.

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He said his team and other model designers will be looking to other countries where testing capacity is not under severe pressure, such as Denmark and the United Kingdom, to try to see where Canada could go. Wastewater testing will also play a role.

These factors should replace the testing loopholes that Combs said allowed epidemiologists to understand the delta effect more quickly than the omicron effect.

“When the delta wave came in, we still had a really great test,” he said. “So we kind of understood, ‘Okay, we just have to recalibrate. “And now…it’s not just a recalibration, we have to devise new ways of understanding what’s going on.”

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Unprecedented COVID-19 case numbers could change protocols

Unprecedented COVID-19 case numbers could change protocols

Not all counties are seeing an increase in hospitalizations. In Saskatchewan, the number of patients tended to be about 20 percent lower than it was two weeks ago, while ICU levels are down in Alberta and British Columbia.

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Scott Moe, Saskatchewan’s premier, cited the reduced number of hospitalizations as evidence that no more restrictions were needed, focusing instead on boosters.

However, he echoed other counties health officials, who said this week that hospitalization will be the new yardstick that will determine their public health responses, as the number of cases becomes less accurate.

Quebec responded Thursday to an increased patient reception by reimposing a nighttime curfew not seen since last winter.

In a statement Thursday, Canada’s top public health official, Dr. Theresa Tam, urged Canadians to get vaccinated if they have not already done so, and for adults eligible to receive a third booster dose once they are eligible to help control the spread of the disease.

“Keeping infection rates low remains key to avoiding renewed increases in severe disease trends over the coming weeks and months, as well as relieving long-term pressure on the health system, particularly in severely affected areas,” she said.

– Files from the Canadian Press

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