Omicron more deadly for seniors in Ontario than the previous two waves combined

Even as Ontario began to reopen its economy and return to a semblance of normalcy this year, COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the lives of elderly residents — they were dying at a faster rate than the past two waves, new data shows.

Analysis of death rates by University of Toronto researchers provided to the Star shows that as of mid-December 2021, Omicron has been more deadly for Ontarians aged 60 and older than the previous two waves combined.

And while Omicron may exhibit milder symptoms than previous variants on an individual level, the sheer number of COVID deaths among Ontario seniors since Omicron became dominant — more than 3,700 — challenges the story that the worst of the pandemic was over as social gatherings grew larger. and capacity limits in restaurants, bars and gyms were lifted.

“If enough people get infected…we’re going to have a large number of people hospitalized and potentially dying,” said Dr. Sharmistha Mishra, physician of infectious diseases and mathematical modeling at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. ‘And that’s what we see.

“The pathogen — the bug itself — doesn’t have to be very serious to cause harm at a community or population level.”

Mishra, whose team at Unity Health Toronto conducted the analysis for the Star, called the findings “stark.” They show that in Wave 5, after Omicron emerged as the dominant variant in the province last winter, the peak death rate among people over 60 was 12 times higher than in the Delta Wave last summer. And it was two times higher than the peak in the Alpha wave in the spring of 2021.

Even during Ontario’s most recent Omicron wave, which began in late March — just as the province was beginning to lift mask mandates — the peak death rate was three times that of last summer’s Delta wave.

In early April, the province saw an estimated 100,000 new COVID infections per day, the highest number of daily cases since the start of the pandemic, raising the likelihood that more individuals would be seriously impacted — and die — as the pool of infected people increased. grew .

The number of Omicron deaths per capita in Ontario aged 60 and older began to rise steeply in mid-December, peaking in mid-January before declining to about the end of February. They started climbing again in late March before reaching a second, smaller peak in early May, before falling in June. An additional 1,348 people aged 60 and older died during that period alone.

This means that Omicron has been responsible for 3,771 deaths in people aged 60 and older since mid-December — about 1,400 more deaths than during the Alpha and Delta waves combined. Most were among those who were not fully vaccinated, meaning they had fewer than two vaccinations.

“I understand that at this point in the pandemic, people are very tired of hearing about COVID-19 and wanting to move on, but the sad reality is that COVID-19, including its Omicron variant, has caused many deaths here in Europe. Ontario,” said Dr. Amit Arya, chief of palliative care at Kensington Health in Toronto.

“For example, the average 85-year-old has about seven years to live. Many of the people who suffered and died from an Omicron impact were not people who were otherwise on the brink of dying and at the end of their lives.”

One of those frail seniors was Jim Mann. When the county dropped masking mandates on March 21, Mann, a devoted husband, father and Maple Leafs fan, lay in a hospital bed in St. Catharines battling the disease no one wanted to talk about anymore.

Mann, 67, a retired window and door salesman, had suffered from emphysema for years, but finally got the call he’d been waiting for: He got some precious new lungs last fall.

He and his wife, Lori Mann, were finally looking forward to celebrating their 28th wedding anniversary at the Keg, visiting family in the west and maybe even taking a vacation to Australia. They wanted to return to a more normal life for the first time in ten years, free of the “line,” as Jim called it, of an oxygen tank.

For most of the past nearly two years, the two of them had been together as the pandemic raged. They would take long drives to get out of the apartment, wearing masks and cleansing their hands religiously with Purell. They skipped time with their children and grandchildren on vacation to be safe. Both Lori and Jim had been vaccinated three times.

In February 2022, Jim was due to receive a fourth shot, but had to cancel for a non-COVID medical reason.

Jim was admitted to their local St. Catharines Hospital after falling ill in mid-March and testing positive for COVID. It still drives Lori crazy, not knowing where he got it from.

For the next five weeks he was in and out of the ICU. Lori wasn’t allowed to visit, but they spoke every day on the phone or, if he was too ill to talk, via text.

In mid-April she was finally allowed to see him, but it didn’t look good. That night she got a call around 4:30 am

“As soon as I saw it was the hospital, I knew,” she said through tears during a recent interview.

“They said everything failed.”

Lori called Jim’s daughter to join her at his bedside. He was on medication for COVID, but nothing helped. After his lung transplant, Jim was given drugs that suppressed his immune system, making him more susceptible to the virus.

On her phone, Jim’s daughter played Jim and Lori’s wedding song, John Michael Montgomery’s 90s country ballad “I Swear,” on the pillow next to him.

“Right at the end of that song, he took his last breath,” Lori recalls.

“So that was it.”

Ontario obituaries published in the first half of 2022 offer a glimpse into the many other lives Omicron have lost, all as a reminder that — for older adults and other vulnerable people — the virus remains deadly.

Toronto resident Arthur Lowrie died in hospital in April at the age of 85 due to complications from COVID. Described in his obituary as “social, talkative, charismatic and personable,” Lowrie, who has lived in the city for over 40 years, “appreciated good food, especially chocolate, and good friends, many of which he had.”

A few weeks later, on May 15, at age 75, Rosanna Biscaro died after spending three months in a hospital in Mississauga after being exposed to COVID in mid-February.

Biscaro, who was married for 55 years and the mother of two, was known for her love of gardening and baking, especially her cream cheese brownies, according to her obituary.

“She had a great fear of COVID”, and although she “had endured many health problems over the years, with her intense will to live and enjoy life”, the damage from COVID “proved to be too much for her to handle.” overcome,” her family wrote.

That same week of May, Robert “Bob” Tisdale of London, Ontario died in hospital from COVID complications. He was 85. The father of two, with four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, was a former high school teacher, active in his community, including the Rotary Club and the local theater, and drove a truck across North America to transport industrial goods during his retirement years, his obituary said.

“He loved life, his family, nature, his dog Riley, he learned new things and was extremely independent,” his family wrote.

The fact that seniors are most likely to experience serious illness and death if they take Omicron underscores the importance of complete vaccination and boosting, said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health and University Health Network.

“Vaccination has been a gift, but it’s only a gift if people keep up with their vaccinations,” Sinha said, noting that as of early May, only six provinces had given the third dose to more than 80 percent of their older adults.

“I’ve seen a lot more of my older patients, after being vigilant for two years, hearing all these messages that the pandemic is almost over, and then suddenly they get COVID,” he added. “I’m not surprised that again we see that most deaths are among the elderly, because we know that they have always been the most vulnerable.”

In an email to the Star, the Department of Health said it began a “live agent” outreach campaign on June 13 to increase booster uptake among Ontario’s 70- to 79-year-olds. It also started an email campaign in mid-June to get the first boosters for those 50 to 69 and second boosters for those 60 and older.

The county said it could not provide the number of individuals vaccinated in these programs as the outreach is still ongoing.

A similar program began in April for the over-80s. The ministry said about 3,500 people aged 80 and over received their booster after being contacted by an agent.

“The Department continues to work with public health units to ensure equity in the rollout of our vaccines and that each public health unit’s approach is tailored to local needs and context,” spokesperson WD Lighthall wrote.

Lori Mann wants people to know that others like Jim are still dying and urges them to “just be vigilant, and if they are sick, please stay home.”

She also wants people to remember her husband as more than just a statistic, to know that he was funny and incredibly loyal, whether that was to his children and grandchildren, his great-nephew, whom he had a special bond with, or the Leafs. . †

“‘Whatever happens, you stay with your team, whatever they do, it’s your team,'” he always told Lori.

“It’s still hard when my phone rings. I just think it’ll be him,” she said, adding that it still doesn’t seem real to be without Jim.

“We just never saw this coming. We had plans.”

With files from Astrid Lange


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