THUNDER BAY – The head of Thunder Bay’s regional hospital says its experience is demonstrating the continued effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against the worst effects of the disease.
Nearly two-thirds of those requiring intensive care for COVID-19 had not received the vaccine, said Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre CEO Rhonda Crocker-Ellacott.
The figure is more lopsided than it appears, since over 76 per cent of the local population is fully vaccinated, according to the Thunder Bay District Health Unit.
“We certainly never know how COVID-19 will hit each of us, individually,” Crocker-Ellacott said in an interview Friday. “That’s why vaccination, and even booster vaccination, is so critically important.
"We do see that of those admitted to hospital [with COVID-19], approximately 23 per cent do end up in the ICU, so certainly there is still reason to pause and ensure we’re all following public health precautions.”
“In terms of age group, it really is all over the map,” she added.
Data released by Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Table on Thursday indicated those vaccinated with at least two doses are 82.7 per cent less likely to end up in hospital, and 91.3 per cent less likely to end up in ICU, compared to those who are unvaccinated.
Crocker-Ellacott expressed some optimism Friday that a record surge of local COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past two weeks was “beginning to plateau.”
That echoes the assessment of Thunder Bay’s medical officer of health, Dr. Janet DeMille, who said this week there were indications the overall prevalence of the virus in the community had plateaued after hitting record heights.
The number of COVID-positive patients admitted at the hospital fell to 43 Friday, down from 51 the day before. Ellacott called that 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 by one.
About 75 per cent of those in hospital with the virus were admitted due to COVID-19, while 25 per cent tested positive incidentally after being admitted for another reason.
The statistics don’t account for a substantial number of people who continue to require care and remain in hospital after their COVID-19 infectious period ends, when they are no longer considered positive cases, Crocker-Ellacott noted.
“So although there are nine COVID-positive in ICU, very often we have a few additional patients in ICU or in other parts of the organization that still require care for COVID-related illness,” she said.
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 put a strain on hospital resources, but Crocker-Ellacott expressed optimism the Omicron wave may have crested.
“It’s been the most significant and sustained highs we’ve seen, over the past 10 to 14 days, so that’s been a little bit new to us,” she said. “That said, we are seeing those numbers come down a little bit. [In] the last couple of days, we’ve only seen single-digit [daily] admissions for COVID-19, which is really promising.”
The hospital needs that trend to continue in order to resume care postponed under Ontario’s Directive 2, which paused so-called elective procedures.
The hospital reported its medical/surgical occupancy is at 101.5 per cent, and ICU occupancy at 86.4 per cent Friday.
Crocker-Ellacott was hopeful the directive could be lifted in mid- to late-February, but said ramping up procedures will be dependent on staff capacity.
“We’ll have to be very, very cautious in terms of our implementation and turning back on, so to speak, our surgical and procedural care, based on the availability of health and human resources.”
As of Friday, 98 hospital staff were off work as a result of COVID-19 infection or exposure, accounting for over three per cent of its total workforce.
“That’s a significant number, [though] it’s not as high as we’ve seen over the past several weeks – we’ve had highs upwards of 160,” Crocker-Ellacott said. “So we’re at a much more manageable level. That said, should many of these absences be in the same department, that creates more challenges.”
There have been clusters of cases among staff in some areas including the Emergency Department, she said, but called that unsurprising in the time of Omicron, and said provincial guidelines continued to be followed.
“We’ve continued to maintain very strict precautions, and we’ve continued to adhere to all provincial guidance with respect to return to work,” she said. “We have not been forced to break protocol in any way.”
She praised hospital staff for rising to meet what has been a particularly challenging period, on top of ongoing pandemic fatigue, saying they continued to “go beyond the call of duty.”
With files from Cory Nordstrom, TBT News.