A Nanaimo physician says Vancouver Island could be hit harder than Italy if the number of coronavirus cases gets out of hand here.
Dr. David Forrest, an infectious diseases specialist and physician at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, turned to social media this week to plead with the public to help control the spread of the coronavirus to prevent COVID-19 cases from “overpowering” the medical system.
In a video message, more than seven minutes long and circulated on social media Monday, Forrest said that Vancouver Island has far fewer ICU ventilator beds than what are available to populations in the rest of the Western world. If the medical system on the Island becomes overwhelmed, he said, “some of you will get very sick and some of you will die. It may be your mother, your grandfather, your best friend, your child.”
Forrest said there were about 30 known cases on the Island, but those cases were confirmed because those patients were tested and he said it’s likely there are hundreds or thousands of people infected.
While it’s true, he said, that many people are not very sick, others are and if even only 20 per cent of Canada’s population become infected and just one or two per cent of those patients die, the death toll could reach 140,000 across the country.
“That’s staggering,” he said. “In Nanaimo, if 20,000 become infected, that’s 400 people who could die, but many more than that will need hospital care.”
If 14 per cent of those infected need hospital care, it means NRGH will be flooded with 2,800 patients, five per cent of whom will require intensive care unit services. But NRGH as a regional medical centre serves the central Island region with a population of about 200,000 people, so the numbers of people needing hospitalization could double.
“The burden on our health-care system will be massive and overwhelming,” Forrest said. “We are worse off in Nanaimo because we only have 4.5 ventilator ICU beds in Nanaimo per 100,000 people. That’s far less than there are in the rest of the western world, far less than there are in Italy where their health-care system has been massively overwhelmed.”
Last week Island Health said it had 96 intensive care beds and 140 ventilators.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, said during a press conference Saturday that “there are ventilators on Vancouver Island” and more being added to the system. Asked if there are enough ventilators at NRGH and if doctors may potentially have to choose who should receive them, she said no single physician will have to make those kinds of “distressing decisions” in isolation.
Forrest said COVID-19 is not an old person’s disease and said it’s likely common that youths get the virus and even if they’re asymptomatic, might be passing it on to others.
“Yes, it is older people and those with underlying medical conditions that are most at risk for complications, but up to 50 per cent of ICU admissions have been for people under age 50 and, while fewer than half of people who go to ICU die, most of those who get through ICU are on a breathing machine with tubes stuck in every orifice and poked daily for intravenous lines for blood work for weeks and it is yet unclear if there will be any permanent lung damage from the infection,” Forrest said. “COVID-19 is a serious disease.”