Doctors are sounding the alarm about increasingly lax attitudes around contracting COVID-19 among some people, amid reports the Omicron variant is less severe than previous incarnations.
The warning comes as the variant continues to spread rapidly across Canada, and amid evidence that it is linked to less severe outcomes — particularly among people with two doses of vaccine.
Dr. David Goldfarb, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at BC Children’s Hospital, said “pandemic fatigue” was becoming very real, and that changing circumstances have led many people to increase their risk tolerance.
“A lot of people have direct experience, and sometimes that can change people’s perception about risk,” he said, as can high vaccination rates.
“That’s different than earlier waves of the pandemic where we would see much riskier outcomes when we were completely unvaccinated. Now we’re seeing more people getting it who are vaccinated, and they will have a different experience when they get that infection for sure.”
But while the odds of landing in the hospital or dying may have decreased, doctors warn they aren’t zero, and the sheer number of Omicron cases means that even with a lower severity, many people will still get significantly ill.
As of Friday there were 97 people with COVID in B.C. critical care units, and the province reported another six deaths.
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B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province was seeing between 45 and 50 new COVID-19 admissions per day.
“If I tell you that only three per cent of this population might end up in hospital, on an individual level, you have no idea whether you’ll be in the three per cent or the 97 per cent,” family physician and Global BC medical contributor Dr. Birindar Narang said.
Much also remains unknown about the long-term effects of the virus — a message Vancouver resident Katy McLean says people should take seriously.
McLean caught COVID-19 in September, 2020, and is among the millions of people worldwide who have developed “long COVID,” a poorly-understood constellation of symptoms and conditions that can persist long after the virus is gone.
“I haven’t been able to work, I can’t basically do anything I used to do in my previous life. I have a number of diagnoses now,” she told Global News.
“Even something as simple as taking a shower and washing my hair is enough to wipe me out for the day.”
McLean has developed a “laundry list” of ongoing medical issues, along with heart and nerve damage, and says she suffers from brain fog and chronic fatigue syndrome.
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Early statistics from the U.K. show that up to 10 per cent of COVID cases can lead to long-term symptoms, and doctors don’t know why some people develop it and others don’t.
“It’s very risky to throw caution to the wind like that and not try to protect yourself,” McLean said.
“Because listen, my life has totally been turned upside down and derailed, I don’t know what my future is like anymore, I don’t know the long-term implications of this virus on my body.”
Along with the risks individuals face, Goldfarb said people need to continue to think about the wider effects of COVID transmission.
COVID-related labour shortages have become increasingly widespread, and are of particular concern in the health-care system.
“At Children’s Hospital that is our main challenge, is there’s a lot of health-care workers and others who are supporting the system who are off,” he said.
“We want to do as much as we can to slow transmission during this wave and not have additional cases. You don’t know ultimately who might get exposed.”
Henry said Friday that she believes the province may have hit the peak of community transmission of the Omicron variant last weekend.
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