Although most COVID-19 cases decreased slowly from the beginning of the year until August, there are early signs suggesting a new wave of COVID-19 infections across Canada. As hospitalizations rise, disease experts are also talking about how a new wave could be different from previous ones.
The Public Health Agency of Canada reported an 11 per cent increase of COVID-related hospitalizations on Aug. 15 compared to the week before.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday there are some seasonal components to the rise in COVID cases, however, unlike the flu, this disease is present year-round.
“COVID will wax and wane but it just seems to always linger in the background,” he said.
But a rise in hospitalizations is not a byproduct of this year’s summer months.
According to data released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), COVID-related hospitalizations have been resurging since last spring.
The data states from April 2022 to March 2023, there was a 19 per cent increase in hospital stays in Canada for patients with a COVID-19 diagnosis compared to the same period the previous year.
One of the main differences in this wave of hospitalizations is that patients are older with a median age of 75 compared to 63-years-old in the previous year, the data showed.
Another key difference is the average length spent at the hospitals, which increased from 13 days to 20. However, while patients are spending more time at the hospital, the mortality rate decreased by 1 per cent. Between 2022 and 2023, COVID-19-related deaths in hospital represented about 10 per cent of hospitalizations, compared to 11 per cent the previous year.
While hospitalization cases are on the rise, CIHI’s data also noted there’s a decrease in emergency visits for COVID-19.
Emergency departments saw more than 222,000 visits due to the virus during the reporting period, compared to 262,000 in 2021-2022.
Quebec is not included in the CIHI hospitalization data.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE HEALTH-CARE SYSTEM?
Even though hospitalization cases are on the rise, Bogoch said he doesn’t think this wave will overwhelm the health-care system as it did in previous years.
“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 health-care providers from other provinces in to help out,” he said.
While it might not reach those extreme levels, the infectious disease expert added the health-care system is still stretched in its capacity.
“Let’s not pretend for a second that our health-care system is doing well. It absolutely isn’t,” he said.
“It needs a lot of tender loving care and support.”
To alleviate some of the strains on the health-care system, and reduce the infection rates of COVID-19, Bogoch said people should be updating their vaccine shots and getting a booster, especially those who are most vulnerable to severe infections.
“Quite frankly, 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 said.
To hear Bogoch’s full health recommendations, watch the video at the top of this article.