GTA doctor sees summer rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations

The health community is again stressing that COVID-19 is not just a seasonal virus. Afua Baah speaks with one GTA doctor who is calling for residents to roll up their sleeves this summer after seeing a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

By Afua Baah

An emergency doctor in the GTA is calling for residents to get a COVID-19 booster after seeing a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“I had noticed several cases of my own patients, and we had what we call a discrepancy file where all of the abnormal tests that are of significance go through and we had seen a real increase in cases testing positive in our hospitals,” said Dr. Steve Flindall, York Region emergency physician.

Some of Dr. Flindall’s patients are considered to be in the most vulnerable group.

“All three of my cases were elderly people with significant co-morbidities, making them at high risk for complications with severe COVID.”

There have been many people in the province getting sick with what they believe might be a cold, but Dr. Flindall believes it’s likely not the common sniffles.

“Many people that I see and that I test for COVID don’t even realize that it’s still around which is a problem.”

The latest numbers show COVID-19 vaccination rates in the country are lagging. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 16.9 per cent of people aged five and older have had the latest booster.

“The Ontario government has stopped monitoring for COVID all together, they’re stopping wastewater testing, you are hard pressed to find home testing kits, and if you do test positive for COVID and prescribe Paxlovid, it’s becoming exceptionally hard to obtain as well,” said Dr. Flindall. “It doesn’t seem to be on many people’s radars, and unfortunately it’s causing a problem.”

Dr. Flindall said he is seeing those numbers reflected in those he recently had to treat.

“Unfortunately, none of them had been entirely up-to-date with their vaccinations and the two out of the three that needed admission hadn’t been vaccinated in over two years.”

Aside from COVID-19, doctors are also keeping an eye on other common viruses creeping back up. With school about to vacate and parents planning family trips, doctors say now should also be a good time for kids to get up to date on all their vaccinations as well.

“Europe has had a real explosion of measles in the last year and almost all of the cases we’re seeing in Canada are related to travel,” said Dr. Flindall.

According to Public Health Ontario, immunization rates for seven-year-olds have dropped considerably over recent years. In 2019-20, vaccination for measles, mumps and polio was at roughly 85 per cent. In 2021-22, those numbers plummeted to 52 per cent.

“And a lot of children fell behind on their vaccination schedules during COVID and they’re still not caught up,” said Dr. Flindall.

As for getting caught up with vaccinations this summer, especially when it comes to COVID-19, Dr. Flindall says we shouldn’t leave it to chance and the province needs to improve public health messaging in order to encourage more people to roll up their sleeves.

“It’s really endemic, there’s really not a lot of seasonality to COVID. If you’re elderly or immunosuppressant, your dependence on previous vaccinations and previous infections is not reliable at all.”

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