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The entrance to the emergency department at Peter Lougheed hospital in Calgary Aug. 22.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Across the country, hospital emergency departments and intensive care units have seen a decline in COVID-19 patients compared with a year ago, but the number of people admitted to hospital because of the virus has increased nearly 20 per cent, according to new data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

The latest data, released on Wednesday, show there were more than 120,000 hospital stays among patients diagnosed with COVID-19 between April, 2022 and March, 2023, up 19 per cent from 101,000 during the same period from 2021 to 2022. The average total length of stay in hospital for these patients rose to 20 days from 13.

“The increase in hospitalization in the most recent fiscal year, I think, is sort of telling us that COVID-19 is still here and it’s still having an impact on hospitals in Canada,” said Nicole Loreti, the program lead for clinical administrative databases at CIHI.

She pointed out that older adults have been affected most. Those 65 and older made up the largest increase in hospitalizations. The median age of hospitalized COVID-19 patients was also older at 75, compared with 63 in the 2021 to 2022 reporting period.

These figures do not include data from Quebec. For about 90 per cent of patients captured in the data, COVID-19 was a cause of their hospital visit, either as their main diagnosis or contributing to the care they required, Ms. Loreti said.

Last winter, COVID-19 cases were overshadowed by the return of influenza and a surge in respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, that overwhelmed children’s hospitals across the country. CIHI’s data show the volumes of emergency department visits and intensive care admissions for COVID-19 did, in fact, retreat in the 2022 to 2023 reporting period.

CIHI recorded more than 222,000 emergency department visits for COVID-19, down from 262,000 the previous year. However, many of these visits took longer. Ninety per cent of emergency department visits were completed within 25 hours, up from 15 hours the year before.

A summer spike reminds us the pandemic isn’t over

Intensive care unit, or ICU, volumes declined to 16,000 from 21,000. ICU admissions accounted for 13 per cent of the overall hospital stays, and of those patients who required intensive care, 39 per cent received ventilation and 23 per cent died in hospital, CIHI said.

Ms. Loreti said CIHI did not examine the reasons for these patterns, but she explained the data could be driven by a number of different factors, including the loosening of public-health measures, the resumption of prepandemic activities and the uptake of vaccine boosters.

By mid-2022, public-health measures, such as requirements for masking, proof of vaccination and testing, were lifted in most settings across the country. And most Canadians had received their primary series of COVID-19 vaccines.

After a dip in activity earlier this summer, the latest available federal data show a recent uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations. Between Aug. 9 and Aug. 15, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital increased to 1,723 from 1,546 the week prior. The number in intensive care edged up to 52 from 48 the previous week.

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