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Sleepwalking through a crisis? Alarms raised over COVID impact on young and old

Posted: October 22, 2022

(October 21, 2022)

By: Kim Zarzour,

Health-care professionals warn we are sleepwalking into a disastrous winter, based on what they’ve seen among the very young and very old.

While much of the province seems ready to put the pandemic in the past, those with an eye on the front line are using words like “alarming” and “stunning” to describe what they see in long-term care and pediatric hospital admissions.

It’s caused some to question whether these vulnerable populations are proverbial canaries in the coal mine, hinting at big trouble ahead.

Across Ontario, 150 long-term-care homes are dealing with outbreaks — compared to just 14 at this time last year, Dr. Amit Arya, Toronto palliative care physician, educator and researcher, reported on Twitter.

The death and outbreak rates — between 11 and 20 residents dying per day — are alarming, said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition.

With chronic staff shortages and inadequate infection control training in homes, “no wonder it keeps spreading,” said long-term-care advocate Vivian Stamatopoulos.

“Now we’ve got these new relaxed measures, removing masking inside residents’ rooms. It’s a mess and only going to get worse with constant rolling outbreaks … some homes with twin outbreaks, influenza and COVID. It’s just a disaster.”

Dr. Kate Dupuis, a clinical neuropsychologist who works in the long-term-care sector, is also concerned.

Twenty per cent of Ontario long-term-care homes are in outbreak, she said. “That’s potentially 15,600 residents impacted. Then add on all the staff caring for them and their family/friends. It’s a lot of people impacted by something we’re told ended six months ago.”

At same time, emergency doctors are reporting “startling” increases in very sick children admitted for pediatric care.

“Worst in my 20 years,” said Dr. Steve Flindall, a York Region emergency doctor. “The crush of patients is unreal … I’ve never given so many pediatric steroids in my life.”

Increases are reported at all three hospitals in York Region.

That’s expected this time of year with cold and flu season and the rising number of respiratory illnesses, Southlake, Mackenzie Health and Oak Valley Health said in emails to

“That answer doesn’t really make a lot of sense,” Flindall said. “It’s not cold and flu season yet.”

Normally, about a third of Flindall’s patients are pediatric — many fast-tracked with minor injuries. Now he says they make up about half of his patients, coming in with coughs, fever, “some in very dire distress breathing … it’s just stunning how many, and how many are quite sick.”

Not all have COVID and the vast majority are OK and can go home, he said, “but we’re seeing ever more numbers of kids coming in that do need admission and it’s startling.”

“As a parent of two young children, one of whom has a history of severe respiratory illness, I find this very frightening,” said Jennifer Grimman, of Richmond Hill.

“It’s past time for our public health unit and the province to take meaningful and evidence-informed action to protect people.”

Bonnie Wong, of Markham, continues to take COVID precautions, but she understands that people are tired.

“Many of us are trying to remain vigilant, but when you see others enjoying life as it was before the pandemic, it is hard to stay the course and you start asking yourself, why bother?”

In a video statement Oct. 17, Dr. Fareen Karachiwalla, York Region associate medical officer of health, predicted both COVID and flu will hit high rates this fall.

“I am really encouraging everyone to get up-to-date on their COVID vaccines” and flu shots as soon as they’re available, she said. (Only 58 per cent of kids aged five to 11 have had one shot.)

Flindall says stronger action is needed.

“Get masking; get vaccinated. I would really like to see mandatory vaccination for schools. I don’t know why this is a big deal, because we’ve had it for other diseases for years and years and it’s worked well.”

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