January 29, 2023

As Omicron hits over the holidays, health-care workers go the extra mile

Health-care workers are working extra shifts at COVID-19 clinics, or administering vaccines in their off hours, and they say it’s important people still get the care they need as the pandemic drags through a second straight holiday season.

Dr. Danny Chapman, a family doctor from Kanata, has chosen to work during the holidays at the Kids Come First COVID-19 Care Clinic at Brewer Arena in Ottawa.

He said he’s grateful to caregivers who bring children in when they have COVID symptoms like coughing, a fever or a runny nose.

“It’s not easy and — I’m not going to lie — it’s not the most festive environment, we have to try and make the best of it,” Chapman said ahead of his Christmas Eve shift.

“They’ve done the right thing by coming in to get their kid seen and we appreciate that. It’s important for all of us.”

Chapman said those working at Brewer, including doctors, nurses and other front-line workers from CHEO, eastern Ontario’s children’s hospital in Ottawa, understand this could be a difficult time for their young patients.

Dr. Danny Chapman gives two thumbs up at a clinic vaccinating patients with COVID-19. The family doctor chose to work the holidays at the Kids Come First COVID-19 Care Clinic at Brewer Arena. (Submitted by Danny Chapman)

Chapman says he was motivated to help at COVID-19 care and vaccination clinics to help deal with some of the isolation of the pandemic, and to let him focus on working with others to make a difference.

“I’ve definitely experienced burnout in the last two years. Like many people, that sense of it being unending — especially when Omicron came,” he said.

‘Exhausted’ in vaccine push

There’s been a major push to provide booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the last week as the Ontario government opened up eligibility to everyone 18 and older.

Dr. Nili Kaplan Myrth, a family doctor who has organized “Jabapalooza” vaccine clinics, said health-care workers have been answering the call to do more, but there hasn’t been enough support in the rollout.

“We’re exhausted. We’ve been working very, very long hours for two years. It’s hard to ask us to do more. I’m not sure there’s hours in the day to do anymore,” she said at Monday’s clinic inside TD Place arena.

Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, right, has organized community vaccination clinics and calling for more support for health-care workers throughout the pandemic. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Like Chapman, Kaplan-Myrth pointed to the spirit of teamwork that has motivated front-line workers to distribute as many shots as they could the week ahead of Christmas.

“If you look around we have about 50 people who are volunteering [their time] here today. There’s an incredible spirit of doing things together to take care of each other,” she said.

Don’t hesitate to go to ER, doc says

Dr. Mike Rubin is working overnight shifts on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in The Ottawa Hospital’s emergency department after he already signed up for extra shifts at vaccine clinics, including on Friday morning.

“The vaccine clinic recharges me,” Rubin said. “It’s a place where you go and you meet healthy patients, who are happy to see you and usually very eager to get inoculated.”

Rubin said his family celebrated a more intimate Hanukah this year, but he understands how some people may be facing disappointment they can’t do the same this Christmas as the Omicron variant has spread rapidly.

Dr. Mike Rubin, who works in the ER at The Ottawa Hospital, says health-care workers have experienced waves of support and frustration as the pandemic has worn on. (Brian Morris/CBC)

“We had been making a lot of progress in terms of the vaccine efforts and case numbers. The virus doesn’t care that it’s Christmas,” he said.

Rubin urging people to seek medical attention without hesitation if they need it, something he recalls happening earlier in the pandemic when people feared exposure to the virus in hospital.

“Please don’t put it off and please don’t be afraid to come to the ER. We are here and we will be open and will be ready to receive you happily,” Rubin said.