The Standard (St. Catharines)

Younger people being hospitaliz­ed with virus, as deaths continue

Pandemic hitting younger age groups as most older residents have been vaccinated

- ALLAN BENNER AND GORD HOWARD Allan Benner is a St. Catharines­based reporter with the Standard. Reach him via email: allan.benner@niagaradai­lies.com

While the majority of Niagara’s oldest and most vulnerable residents have been vaccinated for COVID-19, the death toll has continued to increase in the region.

Patients who are severely ill and, in some cases, dying while separated from their loved ones, are now younger and previously healthier than those who lost their lives during previous waves of the pandemic.

“From April 1 to May 5, we have had 16 patients in the 19 to 39 age group, and 103 in the 40 to 69 age group and 86 people 70 to 90,” said Dr. Karim Ali, Niagara Health’s director of the division of infectious diseases and antimicrob­ial. “The major chunk were younger people.”

He said there were also three children under 17 years old who were sick enough to require hospitaliz­ation in the past month, although they have since recovered.

In the past month, 30 more people have died in hospital after being diagnosed with COVID-19 — including a woman who was in her 30s — pushing the region’s overall death toll to at least 406 since the pandemic began.

“Now, a majority of people in the 80-plus age group are protected, but the pandemic moved into the lower age group,” Ali said. “Add to that, these variants of concern.”

He said the most dominant variant of concern in Niagara is the variant first discovered in the U.K. — B.1.1.7. — “which can make young people much sicker, much quicker.”

As a result, the fatalities occurring are now often among “relatively young” patients.

After 14 months working long hours trying to save the lives of people dying from COVID-19, Ali called ongoing lockdown protests in the region extremely dishearten­ing.

“How many more deaths? How many more cases? How much will it take for people to realize this is not a hoax? This is not an infringeme­nt on your freedom,” he said. “None of us are going to be safe until all of us are safe.”

Niagara’s acting medical officer of health, Dr. Mustafa Hirji, said the ongoing deaths among younger residents was expected.

“Even in the first couple of waves, while most of our deaths were in that older age group, we did probably have a good 30, 40 deaths in some of the younger age groups,” he said.

He said 45 people under the age of 75 died after being diagnosed with the virus during the first two waves of the pandemic.

Neverthele­ss, after the virus claimed the lives of 30 people in the past 30 days, Hirji said he was hoping the deaths “wouldn’t be this high.”

He said fewer elderly people are getting sick now that 97 per cent of people 80 and older old have received vaccinatio­ns, but there are more younger people being diagnosed with the virus and some of them are dying.

Even with most residents and staff at long-term-care and retirement homes having been vaccinated, Hirji said it shows the virus remains a threat.

“COVID-19, if it does spread widely, it eventually does start to kill people in younger and younger age groups,” he said.

It reinforces the need to keep distance, stay home and wear masks.

“That’s really going to be key for the next month or so,” Hirji said. “The vaccine rollout is going well, the more we’re able to limit spread of infection in the meantime, the quicker we’re able to reduce the number of cases, the quicker we’re able to get to a stage where we can safely reopen.”

As a result of the successes the region has had with vaccine distributi­on, Ali said the deaths the region is continuing to experience should now be classified as vaccine preventabl­e deaths.

Neverthele­ss, Ali said public health measures still need to be followed as vaccine distributi­on increases.

“You can’t vaccinate yourself out of the third wave we have,” Ali said. “Public health measures are the ones that curtail the wave and then you vaccinate like your life depends on it and that’s what we’re doing.”

 ?? JULIE JOCSAK TORSTAR FILE PHOTO ?? Niagara Health director of infectious diseases and antimicrob­ial Dr. Karim Ali says the lockdown measures are a necessary evil. “None of us are going to be safe until all of us are safe.”
JULIE JOCSAK TORSTAR FILE PHOTO Niagara Health director of infectious diseases and antimicrob­ial Dr. Karim Ali says the lockdown measures are a necessary evil. “None of us are going to be safe until all of us are safe.”

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