More COVID-19 patients dying at home, Ontario coroner says

Some COVID-19 patients are now deteriorating so quickly that they die before they can seek medical attention, Ontario's chief coroner says. He calls it an "unfortunate and sad" phenomenon that shows how serious the virus can be.

At least 25 Ontarians have died of COVID-19 without seeking medical attention in recent weeks

Ontario's chief coroner Dr. Dirk Huyer looks on during a daily COVID-19 press briefing at Queen's Park in Toronto on June 23, 2020. (Steve Russell/The Canadian Press)

Some COVID-19 patients are now becoming so ill so quickly that they die before seeking medical attention, Ontario's chief coroner said. 

At least 25 people have died in their homes rather than in hospitals or nursing homes since April 1, Dr. Dirk Huyer told CBC News on Friday. There could be more cases that his office is unaware of, he added.

The new reality is a deviation from earlier waves of the pandemic, when most COVID-19 deaths took place in nursing homes and hospitals. It indicates how dangerous the current caseload is in Ontario, Huyer said.

He said he was particularly troubled that some of the people who have died at home were in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

"That is not what we saw in the earlier waves. It was not common for younger people to die. So absolutely, it is concerning."

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Huyer first mentioned the "unfortunate and sad" phenomenon at a news conference at Ontario's legislature building on Thursday.

"It's not that people were ignoring symptoms.... These are people who did have a stable condition and then deteriorated very quickly to their unfortunate deaths," he told reporters.

It's too early to say whether this is happening because of new variants of the virus that are more transmittable and can cause more severe illness, Huyer told CBC News.

He said he shared the information, "so that people understand the seriousness of what we're dealing with."

"The numbers of cases we have right now is the highest we've ever had in Ontario.... The more people that are infected, the more people will suffer serious illness, the more people that will die."

Toronto Mayor John Tory said the situation illuminates how important it is to get tested and see a doctor, "as opposed to hoping that it's just the sniffles."

"Whether you die in the hospital or die at home, you're dying at a young age from an illness that takes people ... very quickly," Tory told CBC's Metro Morning.

"The real answer" is to keep your distance, not socialize with others and get vaccinated as soon as you're eligible, the mayor said. 

"I mean, there is no other answer we have at the moment to what is just an unspeakable tragedy."

More than 500 deaths this month

Ontario reported 4,094 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday and another 24 deaths as the number of patients in intensive care units and on ventilators reached new highs. There are 2,277 patients hospitalized, with 833 in intensive care and 782 on ventilators.

Deaths have accelerated this month, with 520 Ontarians dying of COVID-19 so far in April compared with 386 in March. But the daily death counts have not returned to the level seen in January and February, when more than 50 deaths were regularly reported on single days.

Ontario, however, did reach a third-wave high of 40 deaths reported on a single day on Thursday. 

A total of 7,887 people in the province have died since the pandemic began. Two were 19 years old or younger, 47 were between the ages of 20 and 39 and 365 were between 40 and 59, according to Public Health Ontario's most recent report.

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