AS more young people across Canada become infected with highly contagious COVID-19 variants, a 22-year-old Winnipegger knows just how serious the virus can be.
Peter Soliman ended up in St. Boniface Hospital for nine days after testing positive for the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant, which has taken hold in Manitoba.
"People, I don’t think, realize how serious this really is, and with the third wave it has multiple variants," Soliman told the CBC after sharing his experience on social media.
He described a harrowing ordeal, marked by chills, fever, severe muscle aches and low oxygen levels in his blood.
"My body was feeling like it was running a marathon every day, it was tiring," he said.
His mother and father also contracted COVID-19, causing his father at one point to stop breathing.
Manitoba has reported 479 variant cases, of which 154 are currently active, and two variant deaths. Across Canada, variant cases have surpassed 35,000, most of which are B.1.1.7, described as 50-70 per cent more infectious than earlier strains.
The strains are infecting more young people, owing to a combination of their behaviour and the contagious nature of the variants, said Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of Vancouver’s Infectious Disease Centre.
But Conway said that doesn’t mean young people are acting irresponsibly.
"Think of people who have to live in congregate housing, have to live shared accommodations," he said. "They take public transit more than drive alone, between locations or to work. And in the course of their work, they encounter more people more often."
Dr. Lisa Salamon-Switzman, of the Ontario Medical Association, said she’s seeing more people in their 30s and 40s in intensive care.
"It’s not that it’s not impacting older people. It’s just that there are more older people who are vaccinated, thankfully," she said.
Salamon-Switzman said the third pandemic wave feels different because of COVID-19 variants. "It’s more virulent — people get sicker," she said.
Salamon-Switzman described how sick people infected with variants are inundating Ontario hospitals. She recalled a man with a collapsed lung not getting admitted to hospital because his condition was stable and beds were full.
"Really, we’re at the unthinkable and the unimaginable," she said.
Dr. Anand Kumar, a Manitoban infectious diseases specialist, said the average age of people being hospitalized for COVID-19, particularly in intensive care, has lowered significantly since the rollout of vaccines.
"We’re not seeing those elderly cases anymore, pretty much," he said. He said he’s seeing some people in their 20s, 30s and 40s in hospital, with the odd case in intensive care.
But he said the bulk of intensive care cases right now are those between 50 and 70 years old.
Kumar said he supports a "COVID-zero or near-zero" strategy, in which the province would try to suppress cases as close to zero as possible. Aside from the Atlantic provinces, he thinks all provinces’ intermittent lockdowns and restrictions have been inadequate.
The most important thing is to get more vaccine into arms, experts say.
"We need to vaccinate at maximum capacity," Kumar said.