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As COVID-19 variants spread in B.C., concern grows for effects on younger adults

Doctors in British Columbia are sounding the alarm about the effect new COVID-19 variants are having on younger people.

Evidence suggests the variants of concern are not only more contagious, but are also leading to more severe hospitalizations — particularly for younger adults.

“With the initial COVID the feeling was very much that while young people may get COVID they may not get all that sick, I think the variants have changed that … and I don’t know if people are realizing that,” Dr. Gerald Da Roza, head of medicine at Royal Columbian Hospital, told Global News.

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Data from Ontario public health officials found the B.1.1.7 (U.K.) variant, which has spread the furthest in B.C., led to a 60 per cent increase in both risk of death or hospitalization, and a 100 per cent greater risk of admission to intensive care.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Sunday the median age of people with the of the P.1 variant first identified in Brazil, which is believed to be more contagious and potentially vaccine resistant, was 29.

UBC mathematical biologist Sally Otto’s modelling suggests that variants now make up 50 per cent of B.C.’s COVID-19 cases, an alarming prospect when the province is averaging more than 900 new cases a day.

“We are seeing 30-year-olds in the intensive care unit receiving full critical care support including some measures we really reserve for the sickest of the sick,” Da Roza said.

“It kind of feels like it was at the beginning of COVID when we had that initial wave.”

The rising pressure on hospitals is particularly concerning, De Roza said, considering that treatment for some of the most serious forms of COVID-19 require specialized care only available at certain hospitals.

Da Roza is not the only doctor raising concerns.

North Shore-based Dr. Kevin Mcleod took to Twitter on the weekend to warn B.C. that “we have a problem.”

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Mcleod described hospitals being “much busier” in the last 72 hours, and increasingly requiring oxygen or intubation.

“It’s many patients in that 20 to 50-year-old group. Most do not seem to have co-morbidities. This will go very badly if people don’t wise up. Don’t travel right now. At this pace of admissions our COVID unit will be over capacity before Tuesday,” he wrote.

“Younger people think they are invincible. That feeling quickly fades when we are blasting you with 100 per cent oxygen and your saturation’s are sitting high 80’s and all you really hear is a team debating pros and cons of intubating you and hooking you up to a ventilator.”

Otto’s models estimated that at the current rate of growth, and with the more serious outcomes associated with the variants, B.C. would set a new record for COVID patients in the ICU by the second week of April.

The province appears on that track, reporting 90 ICU patients on Saturday — just three fewer than the all-time high set in mid-December.

“We know that B.1.1.7 and P.1 (Brazil) are more severe. They’re going to land more people in the hospital in ICU,” she said.

“And I mentioned that not to scaremonger, but to just make it clear to everybody that we all need to be very careful right now with the variants at approximately 50 per cent of cases in B.C.”

Dix acknowledged Sunday the situation was putting increasing strain on the hospital system.

Read more:
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With a growing number of people being vaccinated, he urged the public — and particularly younger adults, who may not get their shot until June — to hold on a little longer.

“We’ve got strict restrictions now. We really need people to follow them,” he said.

“Socializing inside, whether it’s in your own home, outside of your household … is not what we need to have happen, it can’t happen right now.”

Dix said he empathized with young people, who have been disproportionately affected by restrictions, whether it be in front-line jobs or the education system.

But he said vaccine priority still needs to remain for the most vulnerable.

In the meantime, De Roza pleaded with younger adults to be patient, lest they risk becoming one of his patients.

“If you can hold out for a little bit longer until we can get everyone vaccinated, then hopefully we can bend that curve back down and get back to some sense of normalcy,” he said.

“Listen to our provincial health officer, meet outdoors, distance yourself appropriately.”

-With files from Kristen Robinson

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