On the third anniversary of the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario doctors said while we might think we are done with that disease, COVID-19 is not done with us.
That was one of the key messages from the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) which held an online news conference Wednesday.
Several physicians spoke to outline their concerns with COVID and the possibility of future pandemics and how society in general, and the medical community in particular, needs to be better prepared.
But the COVID problem persists, said Dr. Allison McGeer, a professor of Laboratory Medicine and pathobiology at the clinician-scientist with the Sinai Health System in Toronto.
She said COVID persists in our society and as much as we would like to think the pandemic is over, it is not.
"And it's really nice to see things returning to normal," said McGeer. “But there are two sets of people we need to be worried about. And one of them is the people who are suffering from long COVID. There's a really large number of them, we need to be paying attention to that, we need to be making sure that we're delivering the care and support they need.
"The second thing is that there are still more people dying of COVID, than die of influenza in a regular year."
McGeer said large numbers of COVID patients are being admitted to hospital and are still dying in significant numbers.
"So even though we think it's over, there's still a very large number of hospitalizations and a much larger number of deaths than one would like. And so trying to keep us paying attention to the fact that we may be finished with COVID. But COVID is not finished with us," she said.
Another lingering effect of the pandemic, according to the OMA doctors, is long COVID which is a problem that is not going away and there is no cure at the moment.
Dr. Angela M. Cheung, a clinician-scientist at the University Health Network, a senior scientist at Toronto General Hospital Research Institute, and professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, said the long COVID problem is made worse by the fact not everyone believes it is real.
"The most common symptoms are fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, brain fog, and there are up to 200 symptoms that patients have complained of,” Cheung said. “What we do know is that it affects more women than men. And it's not only affecting health, it's affecting society.
"It's affecting our ability to work, and also relationships between family members and friends, because there's a lot of disbelief in terms of whether long COVID is real. In terms of treatment strategies, we really don't have a cure right now for long COVID. What we have been doing is using strategies to manage the symptoms."
The issue of pandemic misinformation was also addressed during the news conference.
In responding to a question from Sudbury.com about the spread of misinformation during a pandemic, McGeer said it was important for public health officials to have the trust of citizens at large.
"And so what we need when we go into crises is an existing trust developed between physicians, other health care providers, public health systems, and the general population and making sure that we don't allow the current spread of misinformation on social media to erode that trust in our public health," said McGeer.
"I think it was a surprise to everybody that there was so much misinformation that spread so quickly on social media. And so it will take time for us to build the defenses against that and to understand how we can have people know where they're getting their information from, know what information to trust and believe in the system. So it's a long-term question," she added.
Len Gillis covers health care and mining for Sudbury.com.