London ER doctor sees light at the end of the Omicron tunnel

A doctor who's worked in London emergency rooms since the start of the pandemic is optimistic hospitalizations could recede within a month as health care workers weather the worst of this Omicron-fuelled wave.

Dr. Anderson said staff remain resilient, despite 25 per cent sidelined by COVID-19

Dr. Scott Anderson says frontline health-care workers have remained resilient as the Omicron-driven wave of infections took 25 per cent of their colleagues off the roster during a time of spiking hospitalizations. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC)

Looking at it from one perspective, Wednesday's news about this Omicron-fuelled wave of new COVID-19 infections seems dire. 

Ontario reported a new high of 3,448 patients in hospital, a jump of more than a thousand from the same day last week.

Province-wide, there are ​505​ people with COVID-19 in ICUs on Wednesday. 

And while there are more than 100 COVID-19 patients in London hospitals — 21 of those in critical care — an ER doctor who's been on the front lines since the start of the pandemic believes we may only be weeks away from reaching a point where the worst days of this wave are behind us. 

Anderson said it was a much different story last year, when there was a lack of vaccines, concerns about personal protective equipment and a general uncertainty about how bad things would get. 

"Now every member of staff that you work with is vaccinated and we know that the vaccine works," he said. 

And while Omicron has spread at an astonishing rate, Anderson said in most cases, his healthy, vaccinated colleagues are returning to the front lines not long after testing positive.

"If they do get sick they know they're going to be off for five or 10 days and they're going to come back fully capable at the end of that time to resume work," he said. 

There continues to be concerns that Omicron-fuelled cases will overwhelm hospitals. 

More than 500 London Health Sciences Centre staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. That's about 25 per cent of staffers on the sidelines while hospitalizations continue to climb.

However so far, they've managed to weather the staffing crunch. 

"Health care workers are really good in times of crisis," he said. "They rally together and they get the job done."

Anderson said workers who've tested positive and self-isolated at home are now starting to return as reinforcements. 

"Eventually as Omicron peaks and drops, we'll get into a situation where more staff will be returning from work than are leaving," he said. "So this is a temporary situation." 

Anderson said that about half the COVID-19 patients in London have been transferred in from other jurisdictions where smaller hospitals aren't as well-equipped to handle the surge. 

Unvaccinated patients add to workload

About half the patients who wind up in critical care province-wide have not been vaccinated for COVID-19, and Anderson said it's a trend reflected here in London. 

"It's very clear that the unvaccinated are using up about 10 times more of the resources than the vaccinated are," he said. "If everyone in the province was vaccinated, this would be an incredibly manageable situation," he said. 

And while their choice may be adding to the strain on health-care workers, Anderson said unvaccinated patients "deserve care and we're going to be there for them." 

Anderson said he predicts hospitalizations could start to decline within a month. If his prediction proves true, it will take the weight off a health-care system that has bent but not broken through the pandemic.

"This is hopefully the last wave," he said. 

You can listen to London Morning host Rebecca Zandbergen's full interview with Dr. Scott Anderson here:

Emergency Intensive Care Specialist at London Health Sciences Centre Dr. Scott Anderson gives London Morning a snapshot of the patient load at LHSC's intensive care unit.