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The third wave: The shortage of health-care workers because they are too burnt out or sick themselves

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There are possible long-term effects from the stress. Research from Robert G. Maunder, a psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto, found that during the SARS outbreak, 29 to 35 per cent of hospital workers experienced a “high degree of distress” working to contain that pandemic.

“Throughout the world, hundreds of health-care workers acquired SARS and some died,” Maunder and colleagues wrote in the journal Philosophical Transactions B. “It appears likely that thousands more were traumatized, at least acutely, by their SARS experience.”

As the pandemic subsides, medical professionals will need to keep an eye on each other, Smith said. “People in health care tend to deal with these issues in the moment,” Smith said. “It is actually after the fact, that post-traumatic component, where we really see the sequela occur.”

Right now in Calgary, the city and its hospitals are tracking a couple of weeks behind Edmonton in terms of the pandemic.

People wear face masks outside a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal on Oct.11, 2020, as Canada battles a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

“The fear right now is that this is only getting worse and so there’s an anticipation, a dread anticipation, going on within our system,” said Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room doctor in Calgary.

His daily work in the emergency room means spending more time with those who come in with suspected COVID cases. He said visits seem to be slowing down for non-COVID-related illness, as people stay away from hospitals because they fear catching COVID.

“We really need to see people when they’re sick,” Vipond said. “There was this mortality bump (in May and June) … basically due to people putting off hospital visits for illnesses when they should’ve (come in.)”

Everyone seems to be anticipating the challenges over the next few weeks, as hospitalizations lag spiking case counts. Vipond said he’s seen two COVID-19 deaths recently.

“And that may seem like, whatever, you’re an emerg doc, you see death,” Vipond said. “But this is different. And so fast. And we just know that it’s going to get worse.”

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