Emergency physicians worry combination of COVID-19 and flu season will overwhelm system

TORONTO — A group of emergency physicians is urging Canadians to get their flu shots as a second wave of COVID-19 combined with influenza could overwhelm the health-care system.

Dr. Atul Kapur, co-chair of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians (CAEP), said Canadian hospitals are already suffering from a “chronic situation of overcrowding,” and expects it to only get worse in near future.

“We’re concerned that with that second wave of COVID coming, and the regular, predictable wave of influenza coming, that we may be set up to be overwhelmed again,” he told CTV News Channel.

“We think both waves crashing in at the same time is going to be a huge risk for ourselves and the population.”

Kapur suggests the more Canadians that get the flu vaccine, the less potential burden the health-care system faces this fall and winter.

“The importance of getting a flu shot is higher than ever,” he said. “Even if you’ve never gotten one before, this is the year to make sure you get your flu shot.”

On Tuesday, CAEP released a series of recommendations for the short-, intermediate- and long-term aimed at helping physicians through a second wave of the pandemic during the flu season.

They include ensuring doctors have access to proper personal protective equipment, improving waiting-room design to help with physical distancing guidelines, increasing the national vaccination rate, and providing support for front-line staff.

“We’re dealing with it not just as caregivers to our patients, but also in our roles as family members,” said Kapur.

“That stress is continuing and wearing and we’re looking to see that there are supports being put in place to help our members and all health-care providers.”

During the height of the pandemic in the spring, hospitals began prioritizing COVID-19 patients, which meant many elective or non-essential surgeries were either postponed or cancelled altogether.

Kapur said this method of care cannot continue in the second wave.

“The way we did it isn’t sustainable and we’re already seeing that hospitals are already getting overcrowding situations,” he said.

While it’s unclear as to when it’s appropriate to call the COVID-19 situation in Canada a “second wave,” the country has seen a significant uptick in cases over the past week.

On Tuesday, provinces reported a total of 1,248 new cases of COVID-19, primarily in Ontario and Quebec.

“We stress the importance of following all the public health guidelines,” said Kapur. “We know that it’s difficult, but it is so vitally important.”

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