COVID-19 has been deadlier in Windsor-Essex than most parts of Ontario. Here's why

In Windsor-Essex, the pandemic has been deadlier than nearly any other part of Ontario, statistics indicate.

Windsor Regional Hospital urging vaccination to curb further fatalities

A nurse holds a swab before testing a patient for COVID-19 during a demonstration of the drive-thru centre at the National Arts Centre on Nov. 18, 2020, in Ottawa. According to provincial data, only Toronto is ahead of Windsor-Essex in COVID-19-related deaths per capita. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

In Windsor-Essex, the pandemic has been deadlier than nearly any other part of Ontario, according to provincial statistics.

While fatality rates are down from their peak, COVID-19 continues to claim lives on a weekly basis.

According to the data, the region has had more COVID-19-related deaths per capita than any other region except Toronto.

The rate stands at 110 deaths per 100,000 people, compared with 117 for the provincial capital. That translates to one life lost for every thousand residents.

In total, 464 people in Windsor-Essex have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

They include:

The death toll rose sharply last winter as the second wave devastated long-term care and retirement homes, claiming hundreds of lives locally and many more across the province.

An independent provincial commission found decades-long deficiencies within Ontario's long-term care system such as understaffing and underfunding contributed to the death toll.

The topic of why the death toll has been so high needs further investigation, said Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, the region's acting medical officer of health.

But Nesathurai had a few ideas, suggesting that the region's demographic makeup and older population could play a role. According to the 2016 census, 17.2 per cent of people in Windsor were 65 and older, about a percentage point higher than the national average for that year.

He also questioned whether there could be a correlation with socioeconomic status, which is associated with worse health outcomes in general.

"That's something I think is worth exploring… is a component of the disproportionate number of deaths related to the economic and social status of the community?" he said during a media briefing on Wednesday.

The high death toll also reflects the sheer number of cases in Windsor-Essex, he said.

"Windsor-Essex has had a disproportionate number of people infected, and therefore you would expect a disproportionate number of deaths."

The region has had 20,400 cases since the pandemic began, despite the medical officer of health implementing additional local public health restrictions above the Ontario guidelines several times throughout the pandemic, and an accelerated rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

Nicole Dupuis, chief executive officer of the public health unit, said the region has higher rates of chronic conditions including cancer and cardiovascular disease, which are risk factors.

"We do have a higher burden of chronic disease compared to the province."

Battling the fourth wave

With the availability of vaccines, the number of COVID-19 deaths has not since approached levels seen during the second wave. But there remains cause for concern.

Dr. Ian Mazzetti, an intensive-care physician and the chief of medicine at Windsor Regional Hospital, said the pandemic's fourth wave got off to a bad start.

Since the beginning of September, 25 people have died after contracting COVID-19 — the equivalent of one death roughly every 2.5 days.

He thinks the region's lower vaccination rate, which is at 81 per cent but has lagged behind the rest of the province for months, is one of the factors.

He's calling on residents to roll up their sleeves so they can dramatically reduce their chances of ending up in hospital.

"The risk of getting COVID-19 is about six times higher [if you're unvaccinated]," he said.

"If you get COVID-19, you're about 11 times more likely to be hospitalized, 11 times more likely to wind up in the intensive-care unit with a guy like me looking after you," he said.