Lisa Salamon-Switzman, an emergency room physician in Toronto, had already overcome two deadly waves of the coronavirus pandemic when a new group of patients recently began to arrive, leaving her restless due to her low oxygen levels and her age. .
“They are younger than what we saw before and they really don’t understand how sick they are,” he said of patients in their 40s and 50s. “And now it’s turned into this huge, huge wave.”
Doctors and epidemiologists in Canada’s most populous province have been warning for weeks that easing restrictions, a lack of sick pay for essential workers, and the arrival of new infectious variants of the coronavirus would usher in a devastating third wave. .
On Thursday, as cases and admissions to the ICU skyrocketed, Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford was forced to reverse plans to reopen and instead announced a month-long shutdown.
The move comes as health officials warn that rapidly spreading variants of the coronavirus have put the province at risk.
“As the variants spread, Covid is killing faster and younger,” said Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s Covid-19 scientific advisory board.
Variants – essentially mutated versions of Covid-19 that can more easily infect and are believed to be more fatal – have become a growing problem in several provinces across the country.
In British Columbia, the P1 variant, which was first discovered in Brazil, has spread rapidly, and in recent days, the province has recorded its highest case burden since the pandemic began more than a year ago.
Quebec, which has long resisted school closings, announced a closure in three cities this week as the variants drive an exponential outbreak of the virus.
But in Ontario, the country’s economic center, the province’s latest outbreak has become emblematic of how the virus has disproportionately affected essential workers in factories and warehouses, many of whom are members of ethnic minorities. low income.
While the province’s restrictions are expected to slow overall case growth, a new model suggests that nearly 800 patients are expected to be in the province’s ICU beds by the end of April, nearly double current rates. .
New cases have risen steadily in recent weeks, along with the gradual reopening of restaurants and schools.
“The surprising thing is that our hospitalization figures don’t seem as high as in wave one or two. But our ICU numbers are just as bad, if not worse. Patients are getting sicker and going straight to the ICU, ”Salamon-Switzman said. “It’s like the original Covid strain, but on steroids.”
For doctors, the demographic change of patients has exposed the deep inequalities of the virus.
“We know that the racialized populations affected by Covid-19 far outnumber the others. And we know that most of these populations are essential workers who are working in factories but have not yet had the opportunity to get vaccinated, ”said Salamon-Switzman.
While Canada secured one of the highest per capita supplies of the vaccine, the launch has been too slow to stop the rapid spread of the virus. Long-term care deaths have largely disappeared, the result of an early push to ensure that the country’s most vulnerable residents were protected.
“If the current situation is described as a race, the variants are a mile ahead,” said Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical health officer.
Many of the Salamon-Switzman patients who contract the virus in work settings have underlying health problems, such as diabetes, heart and lung disease. These conditions make them high risk, but they still cannot qualify for a vaccine according to the province’s guidelines.
The assembly cases have also exposed the difficult decisions that workers must make. The province does not offer guaranteed paid sick leave, and temporary or concert workers often do not qualify for employee benefits.
“Workers have a difficult decision to make: either you stay home sick and they don’t pay you, or you go to work,” said Gagandeep Kaur, an organizer with the Warehouse Workers Center. “And since many are parents too, they have to worry about their children coming home sick and infecting them.”
At the same time, the high cost of living in the city means that many workers often live in shared apartments, Kaur says, amplifying the spread of the virus. And in the worst affected regions, many are temporary workers and do not qualify for employer benefits.
Until workers have better access to vaccines and a chance to stay home if they are sick, Kaur worries that the situation will continue to worsen in the coming weeks.
“We keep talking about these essential workers. We call them leaders, heroes and providers, ”he said. “But whatever we call them, the way they are treated doesn’t reflect that at all.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism