Percylla Battista said she last spoke to her sister, Maggie Quart Robitaille, a week before Quart Robitaille tested positive for COVID-19.
“She was feeling pretty good,” Battista said in a recent interview. “She didn’t think she would get COVID because she had already been vaccinated four times.”
But on April 13, Quart Robitaille died at age 82, less than two weeks after testing positive for COVID-19. She was among the 3,325 people reported to have died in the province from the novel coronavirus since the Omicron wave started in mid-December.
While vaccination and improved treatment have made COVID-19 less deadly, Quebec reported Saturday that there have been 15,000 deaths attributed to the pandemic in the province — the most in Canada. Quebec’s death rate also remains the highest in the country, at 174 deaths per 100,000 people. In Ontario, there have been 86 deaths per 100,000 people. Across Canada, there have been 102.
Simona Bignami, a demography professor at Université de Montreal who studies population health, said less attention is being paid to people who have recently died of the disease, like Quart Robitaille, compared to those who died during the pandemic’s first wave, which killed more than 5,686 people.
It’s understandable, Bignami said in a recent interview, that people are trying to regain some sense of normalcy. But in doing so, she said, “there has been, unfortunately, less emphasis on the people who continue to die of COVID-19.”
While COVID-19 deaths tend to be concentrated among people who are 70 and over, Bignami said that over the past year, the proportion of people between 50 and 69 who have died has risen.
According to Quebec’s public health institute, 12.9 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in the province during the fifth wave that began in December involved people aged 50 to 69, up from 7.8 per cent during the first wave. During the ongoing sixth wave, 9.1 per cent of deaths have been among people aged 50 to 69.
But Bignami said governments aren’t releasing enough data about who is dying, information that’s essential for risk assessment as the pandemic continues.
“Is it still the case that the deaths are concentrated among the unvaccinated? What is really the burden of mortality among those who are vaccinated and what is the actual mortality risk if one is vaccinated with two doses versus three doses?” she asked. “The only country that has done extensive studies of this has been Israel.”
Dr. Rodica Gilca, a medical epidemiologist at the province’s public health institute, said the biggest change in pandemic-related mortality has been its decline.
According to the institute’s data, there have been more than 104,000 confirmed cases during the current wave of the pandemic, which began in mid-March, and 660 deaths.
“We see that it has decreased and that it’s really decreased in all age groups,” Gilca said in a recent interview. “We’re seeing the most significant decrease in the oldest people.”
People with multiple other conditions, older people and those who are unvaccinated remain the most likely to die from the disease, she added.
Quebec’s interim public health director, Dr. Luc Boileau, has acknowledged that the province has seen a “huge” number of deaths linked to COVID-19. Quebec’s high death toll, he said last Thursday, is explained by the fact the province counts a COVID-19 death as any death involving someone who has the disease.
He said a government study from January indicated that around 30 per cent of the official COVID-19 deaths in the province’s hospitals involved people who tested positive for COVID-19 but whose principle cause of death was not the disease. He said about 40 per cent to 50 per cent of official COVID-19 deaths in the province involve people who had the disease but who died of other causes.
“The lethality rate has dropped continuously since the first wave,” Boileau said. “The vaccinations and the medical services that they’re offering inside our hospitals are very good, so that’s why we’re observing the lethality rate going down and down and down, which is great.”
But, for Battista, the death of a family member is a sad reminder that the pandemic isn’t over.
“I’m going to miss our phone calls, our chit chats and gossip and all that stuff,” Battista said, adding that she’ll remember her sister as an avid reader, an oil painter and a crafter who was fond of knitting and crochet.
While governments may be trying to move past the pandemic, Battista said she’s still taking precautions.
“I firmly believe that we’re all going to get COVID If we aren’t careful, and those of us who are older all have some kind of (health) issue,” Battista said. “We’re more vulnerable. I just can’t understand how governments have rescinded all the measures that they were taking to keep us healthy.”
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