Hundreds of hospital staff self-isolate as COVID spread high and holding steady in Hamilton

The seventh wave is showing signs of plateauing in Hamilton, although COVID spread is still prevalent in the community.

“COVID-19 transmission in Hamilton is high and stable,” reported public health’s weekly status update Thursday.

Key indicators have stabilized over the last two weeks, including wastewater samples with COVID-19 detected.

The number of active outbreaks has also been holding steady with 30 in high-risk settings as of Wednesday. Of those, four were in shelters, two were in hospitals, and six were in group homes, assisted living and other vulnerable congregate housing.

The highest number were among vulnerable seniors with 18 ongoing outbreaks at long-term care and retirement homes.

The city has also reported the COVID deaths of five more seniors age 80 and older from July 27 to Aug. 3. One Hamiltonian in their 70s also died, bringing Hamilton’s pandemic fatalities to 590.

Hamilton’s hospitals were caring for 102 COVID patients Thursday and had 330 staff self-isolating. It compared to 85 patients and 369 staff off work about one week ago.

Overall, public health reported new COVID hospitalizations have stabilized with nearly one Hamiltonian admitted a day as of Aug. 1. New admissions to intensive care for COVID have also held steady over the last two weeks.

However, both Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) and St. Joseph’s Healthcare report being under significant pressure with no improvement since they sent out a public update July 21 about increasing wait times as they struggle to cope with unprecedented staffing shortages, significant spikes in demand and the ongoing pandemic.

“Occupancy and staffing pressures are ongoing,” HHS said in a statement Wednesday. “Patients whose conditions are not urgent/emergent should continue to expect longer wait times in our emergency departments and across outpatient services.”

Some key COVID metrics have started decreasing in Hamilton, shows the city’s status update.

Average new daily cases went down to 76 on Aug. 1 from 97 on July 24. This metric had been increasing since around June 6 when it was sitting at 25 on average. Case counts are a significant underestimate as the public doesn’t have access to PCR testing.

The number of tests coming back positive has also fallen to 16 per cent on July 29 from nearly 18 per cent on July 15.

However, these metrics are still high as the seventh wave is driven by the more contagious Omicron subvariant BA.5.

As a result, public health urges those who are sick to stay home and strongly recommends residents wear a well-fitting mask indoors, especially when it’s crowded.

“Vaccination remains the most important way to protect against COVID-19 and its health effects,” stated the status update.

City data shows the significant difference getting vaccinated and boosted makes when it comes to preventing severe illness.

Hospitalizations were 443.9 per 100,000 population among the unvaccinated as of Aug. 18. The rate dropped to 157.1 for those vaccinated with two doses and fell further to 81.7 for the boosted.

Overall, the risk of hospitalization for COVID was more than five times higher for the unvaccinated than for those with three doses.

The gap was even wider when it came to intensive care unit (ICU) admissions for COVID. The rate was 101.3 ICU cases per 100,000 population for the unvaccinated. It decreased to 20.3 for those with two doses and dropped to 8.3 for the boosted.

Overall, the risk of ICU admission for COVID was more than 12 times higher for the unvaccinated compared to those with three shots.

Despite the protection three shots provides, uptake has been sluggish in Hamilton.

Fewer than 50 per cent of those age 25 to 39 have three shots and it’s fewer than 60 per cent for those age 40 to 54.

Coverage drops to 38 per cent boosted among those 18 to 24. Just 16 per cent of youth age 12 to 17 have had three doses.

Even those most at-risk — age 60 and older — have gaps when it comes to third doses despite now being strongly recommended to get a fourth shot.

Kick-starting the vaccine rollout is significant considering Scarsin Forecasting has predicted the seventh wave to greatly increase into the fall and early winter.

For the first time, the city publicly revealed Thursday the cost of the Scarsin modelling software, maintenance and support to be $236,250 plus HST from Feb. 17, 2021, to Aug. 16, 2022. The figure was requested by city council on July 8.

Hamilton’s board of health has decided to continue with Scarsin until at least Feb. 16, 2023, with the option to extend for up to 24 months.

“Hamilton’s utilization of Scarsin’s forecasting technology has helped to strengthen our community’s collective response … by anticipating case trajectory and severity related to COVID-19 transmission,” stated a communication update to the board. “This technology provides the broader Hamilton community with a line of sight into the future of evolving COVID-19 epidemiology.”

Joanna Frketich is a health reporter at The Spectator. [email protected]

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