TORONTO — As Canada braces for the fourth wave of the pandemic and some provinces are mandating vaccines for health-care workers, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) says that nearly 100,000 people working in the field were diagnosed with COVID-19 in the first 5.5 months of the year.
The CIHI, an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides information on health care, released a report on Thursday detailing the impact COVID-19 has had on the health workforce from the beginning of the year through June 15.
It showed that the number of infections in health-care workers was 94,873, representing about seven per cent of the total cases in Canada. That compares to 19.4 per cent in July 2020.
“The proportion of health-care workers with COVID-19 has been declining,” said Ottawa-based Lynn McNeely, manager of the CIHI’s health workforce information team, via telephone on Thursday.
But after more than 1.5 years, the pandemic is taking a toll on health-care employees, from doctors to personal support workers.
“There’s no doubt it’s been challenging,” McNeely said.
About 43 health-care workers have died since the pandemic began. And more than three-quarters of the employees working in direct contact with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 reported worsening mental health, according to a crowdsourced questionnaire the CIHI did in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada late last year.
“This speaks to the need to have a clear understanding of the physical and mental impact,” McNeely said, adding the CIHI is starting a survey this month to look into these areas more closely.
In addition, there have been staffing issues. Early on in the pandemic the military was brought in to help Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba cope, and the scopes of practice were expanded, as were the roles of students.
Employees were also needed to help with testing and the vaccine rollout. More than 34 million COVID-19 tests and upwards of 24 million vaccines were given by June 1 this year.
And looking ahead, the health-care system will also have to deal with the backlogs of surgeries and procedures that were not done during the height of the pandemic.
The report on the risks facing health-care professionals comes amid calls for vaccine mandates and testing protocols. Ontario announced on Tuesday that it’s introducing vaccination and testing policies for health-care workers. And last week, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association called for vaccines to be mandatory for health-care workers.