Victims of Niagara Region COVID-19 death spike are ‘our most vulnerable fellow citizens’: Hirji

Dr. Mustafa Hirji Niagara Region's acting medical officer Dr. Mustafa Hirji

Niagara Region has seen two spikes in its COVID-19 death toll in recent days and the people who are dying are residents of retirement and long care facilities, said the region’s acting medical officer.

Through the fall, the death toll was holding at around 99. However, over the Christmas weekend, Niagara Region Public Health reported 22 new deaths. Yesterday it reported 21 more. The Region’s COVID-19 death toll is now at 142.

The region has seen more outbreaks in the last two weeks in managed care settings. “Outbreaks in these settings impact our most vulnerable fellow citizens who are at greatest risk of severe illness and death. Indeed, of the 21 new deaths we are reporting today, 19 of them are associated with a long-term care or retirement home outbreak,” Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara Region’s acting medical officer told Niagara Info late in the day Wednesday.

The people in the region succumbing to COVID-19 are typically in managed care homes. “As cases in the community have increased, it has increased the probability that a staff person or visitor to a long-term care home or retirement home might be infected with COVID-19,” he said.

The seemingly sudden spike in the death toll is a result of two factors: Delayed reporting and increasing infections. “The large increase in deaths reported today is a compounding of delayed reporting, as well as an increase in the rate at which people are dying of COVID-19 in Niagara,” Hirji said.

Niagara Region Public Health (NRPH) normally reports deaths associated with COVID-19 three times per week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

“As part of our protocol for accuracy in reporting deaths, we seek confirmation, such as through a death certificate, that a person has indeed passed away, and that the death was associated with COVID-19,” Hirji explained. However, COVID-19 is not necessarily the cause of death. Hirji said it is impossible to determine that without a coroner’s investigation. The people in the Region’s death statistics were infected with COVID-19 when they died.

Due to the holiday last week, several such confirmations were delayed in being reported by NRPH. As a result, there was a catch-up set of deaths to report from receiving delayed confirmations.

However, the rising death toll death is a result of COVID-19 circulating much more widely now, with higher case numbers in Niagara.

Niagara Region saw 107 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, 138 Tuesday and 82 on Monday. Two weeks ago the new case reports were fluctuating around 50 or 60 new cases each day. In early late November and early December, new cases were in the teens to low 20s each day.

“Deaths typically lag two to four weeks after cases increase, and so we are now, unfortunately, seeing the most severe human costs from the recent increase in cases,” said Hirji.