THUNDER BAY – The head of Thunder Bay Regional Hospital says his experience demonstrates the continued effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against the worst effects of the virus.
Nearly two-thirds of people in need of intensive care for COVID-19 had not received the vaccine, said Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Center CEO Rhonda Crocker-Ellacott.
The figure is more skewed than it appears, as more than 76% of the local population is fully immunized, according to the Thunder Bay District Health Unit.
“We certainly never know how COVID-19 is going to hit each of us individually,” Crocker-Ellacott said in an interview Friday. “That’s why vaccination, and even booster vaccination, is so important.
“We find that among people admitted to hospital [with COVID-19]around 23% end up in intensive care, so there’s certainly still reason to pause and make sure we all follow public health precautions.
“In terms of age range, it’s really everywhere,” she added.
Data released Thursday by the Ontario COVID-19 Science Table indicated that those vaccinated with at least two doses are 82.7% less likely to end up in hospital and 91.3% less likely to end up in intensive care, compared to those who are not vaccinated.
Crocker-Ellacott expressed some optimism on Friday that a record increase in local COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past two weeks is “starting to plateau.”
This echoes the assessment of Thunder Bay’s medical officer of health, Dr. Janet DeMille, who said this week that there were indications that the overall prevalence of the virus in the community had plateaued after reaching record highs.
The number of COVID-positive patients admitted to hospital fell to 43 on Friday from 51 the previous day. Ellacott called it a promising sign, after the figure remained in the 50s for most of the past two weeks.
There were nine people in the intensive care unit with COVID-19, up from one person.
About 75% of people hospitalized with the virus were admitted due to COVID-19, while 25% tested positive accidentally after being admitted for another reason.
The statistics do not take into account a significant number of people who continue to need care and remain in hospital after the end of their infectious period of COVID-19, when they are no longer considered positive cases. , noted Crocker-Ellacott.
“So while there are nine COVID positives in ICU, very often we have a few extra patients in ICU or other parts of the organization who still require care for COVID-related illnesses,” said she declared.
On Friday, she said there were 29 people who remained in hospital for care after testing positive but were no longer listed as a COVID hospitalization.
The influx of COVID patients has strained hospital resources, but Crocker-Ellacott expressed optimism that the Omicron surge may have peaked.
“These are the largest, most sustained highs we’ve seen, in the last 10-14 days, so that’s a bit new for us,” she said. “Having said that, we see those numbers dropping a bit. [In] in the last few days we have only seen one digit [daily] admissions for COVID-19, which is really promising.
The hospital needs this trend to continue in order to resume care deferred under Ontario’s Directive 2, which suspended so-called elective procedures.
The hospital reported its medical/surgical occupancy rate was 101.5% and critical care occupancy was 86.4% on Friday.
Crocker-Ellacott hoped the directive could be lifted by mid-to-late February, but said speeding up proceedings would depend on staff capacity.
“We will have to be very, very careful about our implementation and the resumption, so to speak, of our surgical and procedural care, depending on the availability of health and human resources.”
On Friday, 98 hospital staff were off work due to infection or exposure to COVID-19, representing more than 3% of its total workforce.
“It’s a big number. [though] it’s not as high as we’ve seen over the past few weeks – we’ve had highs of over 160,” Crocker-Ellacott said. “So we are at a much more manageable level. That said, if many of these absences occur in the same department, it creates more challenges.
There have been clusters of cases among staff in some areas, including the emergency department, she said, but called it unsurprising in Omicron’s time, and said the guidelines provincial continued to be monitored.
“We have continued to maintain very strict precautions and we have continued to adhere to all provincial guidelines in regards to returning to work,” she said. “We were under no obligation to break protocol.”
She praised hospital staff for standing up to face what has been a particularly difficult time, in addition to the current pandemic fatigue, saying they continue to ‘go above and beyond the call of duty’ .
With files from Cory Nordstrom, TBT News.