In an alarming new trend, people are dying at home from COVID-19 as the third wave of the pandemic increasingly fills hospitals with patients who are younger and sicker.
Ontario’s chief coroner says an average of two people a day have been succumbing to the disease at their houses or apartments in the last two weeks because symptoms can progress quickly with more contagious and dangerous variants.
“That is in excess of anything that we saw during wave one and over wave two as well,” Dr. Dirk Huyer told a news conference Thursday as the province reported 40 more COVID-19 deaths, the highest daily toll in two months.
People dying at home have ranged in age from their 30s to the 70s in a development that Huyer described as “new, unfortunate and sad.”
While officials in his office are delving deeper into reports on the deaths to discern more layers of detail, Huyer said he went public with the trend to alert people to be on their guard even as hospitals and their intensive care units are facing unprecedented pressures.
Most of the people who died at home had tested positive for COVID-19 or have been associated with people who have, and were found deceased by family members or housemates later in the day or the next morning.
“These were people that weren’t necessarily appearing, based upon their symptoms, to be needing to go to hospital or an ambulance to be called. So it’s not that people were ignoring symptoms from what I’ve read ... these were people who did have stable conditions and then deteriorated very quickly,” Huyer said.
“We are still evaluating and trying to understand all of the circumstances,” the coroner added. “But certainly, it’s notable in the fact that this is a younger population ... who are suffering serious consequences in the form of death in a quicker period of time than we saw in the past.”
The trend comes as more Ontarians seek hospital care, with hospitals reporting a record 2,350 patients with COVID-19, more than 600 higher than at the peak of the second wave during the winter.
There were 806 people in intensive care units as of Thursday morning and 588 of them on ventilators, up from 659 in ICU and 442 ventilated patients a week ago.
Hospitals in the GTA used the Ornge air ambulance service to transfer 59 patients to hospitals in other cities Wednesday — the most in one day this month — to create more room in intensive care units for a surge of patients expected to continue into next week and beyond.
“Some of the people who are sick have been transferred hundreds of kilometres,” Huyer said.
At 4,176, Ontario’s seven-day moving average of new cases is down slightly from 4,208 at the same point last week, which could be a signal that spread of the virus has hit a plateau, said the province’s medical officer of health. “We need to watch it a bit further,” said Dr. David Williams.
The province remains under a stay-at-home order until at least May 20.
New case numbers have been hitting record highs in recent weeks despite increasing levels of vaccination. More than four million Ontarians have now received at least one dose of vaccine.