Thunder Bay

Study warns of potential for higher COVID-19 mortality in remote communities

A new study conducted by researchers at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine points to rural and remote populations in northwestern Ontario being more adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Patients in need of an ICU bed need to be taken to Thunder Bay or southern Ontario

Researchers at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine conducted a study examining the potential impact of COVID-19 in rural and remote communities in northwestern Ontario. (Northern Ontario School of Medicine)

A new study conducted by researchers at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine points to rural and remote populations in northwestern Ontario being more adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lead author Dr. David Savage, who also teaches at the medical school, said the majority of the research that has been done to this point has focused on urban areas.

"We know that in our northern, rural, remote populations that the health status of the population is much lower," Savage said. "These patients have a high burden of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. We know that their access to health care resources is limited."

Savage said the study also accounted for factors like contact rates and housing conditions.

Recently reported cases in remote, northern Indigenous communities are some of the most concerning locations for potential outbreaks, he said.

"Under conditions where there's high contact rates, they'd be overcrowding and the patients are significantly less healthy," Savage said. "Our mortality will be much, much higher than what you'd expect in an urban population and the number of patients requiring (intensive care unit) beds is also much higher."

Savage said researchers, in their model, included the patient pathway in northwestern Ontario and demonstrated potential delays in how people can access care.

"The thing that's a little different about our model is that because of the resource issues in northwestern Ontario, patients who get sick in their home communities, if they're if they're requiring a hospital bed, they'd likely stay in their home community and be cared for by their local physicians," Savage explained.

"But if they required an ICU bed, then they would have to actually travel to Thunder Bay ... or southern Ontario for that level of care."

Savage said further research will examine the medical air transport capacity if there are outbreaks in remote communities.

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