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Opinion: Staying home is far better than lungs full of fluid, ventilators and possibly death

Dr. Peter Zalan says with COVID-19 and its variants raging among younger and younger people, staying home is simply the best option until mass vaccinations have been completed
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If you are a man or woman, from your teens into your 50s, this is all about you. 

The medical officers of health in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region are urging the province to take immediate steps in the face of surging numbers of COVID-19 variants that are sending younger people to hospital. 

Between March 15 and March 21, there were 157 new admissions to ICU in Ontario. People aged 59 years and younger accounted for 46 per cent of admissions. 

“It used to be that one family member, often an older parent or grandparent, would be in an intensive care unit while other members of the family would have caught a much milder form of the disease, if at all. Whole families are now showing up in intensive care,” said Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair for the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, in a recent news story.

The president of Health Sciences North, Dominic Giroux, said local numbers reflect that data, saying patients admitted to the ICU range in age from 28 to 71.

It used to be that younger people hardly noticed, if at all, that they had an infection with the virus. Unfortunately, the variant is a new disease. It spreads more easily and is more deadly than the virus that caused the first and second waves.

“It is vitally important that younger people understand these risks associated with the coronavirus can also affect them. We've had a couple cases ... with people who quite literally were fine the night before, who are then not only put on life support, but put on [cardiac] bypass because their lungs don't ... work anymore, and it happens so quickly," said Dr. Daniel Kalla, head of the emergency department at St. Paul's Hospital in downtown Vancouver.

Here is the problem. Our seniors were the first in line to be vaccinated. Because the vaccine works, even after a single shot, seniors with COVID-19 are disappearing from our ICUs. The average age of new COVID-19 ICU admissions is down in the 50s. 

It will be some months before young people will be vaccinated. It is literally a race between a shot-in-the-arm and the rapidly spreading variant.

In the meantime, before vaccination, there is really no other protection from harm than hiding out from the virus, much as most of our seniors have done. No fun, but it is not forever. 

And it sure beats lungs full of fluid, ventilators and cardiac bypass machines and possibly death.

I have seen it all before, in 2009, when I was chief of critical care at Health Science North. 

It was the turn of the H1N1 influenza epidemic. Our Sudbury patients varied in age between 25 and 65.

Vaccination has a proud history of success. It has been no easy task to isolate the virus, create a huge amount of vaccine and check the safety and purity of it, all in such a short time. Please delay the fun, hide out from the virus, until you are vaccinated. In the meantime, just grit your teeth and follow the public health rules. 

Dr. Peter Zalan is Past President of the medical staff at Health Sciences North and a frequent columnist for Sudbury.com.