Although reports have indicated that the Omicron variant appears to be milder than previous strains of COVID-19, the experience on the frontlines at Cornwall Community Hospital (CCH) tells a different story with certain population groups.
At CCH, COVID-19 is sickening greater numbers of elderly patients, the immunocompromised and medically fragile, and patients with an underlying condition worsened by the virus.
Of the 43 patients in hospital with COVID-19 as of January 24, the vast majority are in the hospital’s medical wards, meaning they are not critically ill but still require hospital treatment for their illness.
Dr. Lorne Scharf, Chief of Staff and Emergency Physician at CCH, says that the majority of vaccinated patients requiring hospitalization are older and have other chronic illnesses.
“We’re primarily observing severe illness in two types of patients at this point: unvaccinated patients and immunocompromised patients,” said Dr. Scharf. “Which makes sense given the large number of aging individuals with comorbidities in our community,” he adds.
The majority of COVID-19 patients in hospital at CCH and throughout the province are fully vaccinated, but Dr. Scharf says it doesn’t mean that the vaccines aren’t working.
“Naturally the majority of our patients will be vaccinated because the majority of the population is vaccinated. However, it is very rare that a vaccinated, relatively young and healthy individual is winding up in hospital with COVID-19, especially the intensive care unit,” he explains.
Omicron is also extremely contagious as evidenced by the large number of staff unable to work due to catching the virus; as of January 24, that number is 40. This is putting increased strain on frontline staff particularly on medical wards where the majority of the patients are being treated.
“It is a reminder to everyone to be please get vaccinated and get boosted, especially if you are older and have underlying conditions,” emphasized Dr. Scharf. “Not everyone will have mild illness from Omicron, which is exactly what we are observing on the frontlines.”