The COVID-19 pandemic altered everyday life nearly two years ago, but still, Dr. Barry Nathanson says he finds that most patients admitted to the hospital are unvaccinated, with some unconvinced the virus exists.

"The overwhelming majority are those who are not vaccinated," says Dr. Nathanson, the medical director for critical care at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, adding too many patients remain skeptical.

"They're getting very sick, very quickly," he notes.

"Some are objecting to some of the additional measures that we offer like medications, and they just don't believe in them. Some have claimed a disbelief in the virus and pandemic entirely itself," Dr. Nathanson tells CTV News.

HOSPITAL STAFFING SHORTAGES

As for hospital staff, Dr. Nathanson says fatigue is overwhelming.  "The mood is a tough one," he notes.

Earlier this week, a new report from Ontario's Science Table suggested the province may not handle an influx of patients, like in the third wave, something that Dr. Nathanson confirms is due to staffing shortages.

While most hospitals have enough physicians, he says that many nurses have decided to leave the profession.

"For whatever reason, they've had enough, and that leaves huge gaps in our nursing lines, staffing our lines, and it leaves, of course, a large burden on the nurses who remain," he says.

"The experienced nurses have to do their work, they have to make up for the work that others leave behind, and they also have to take on the challenge of mentoring and teaching the new nurses that are being brought in to bolster our lines," Dr. Nathanson adds.

BOOSTER SHOT ELIGIBILITY EXPANSION

On Thursday, the province announced it would expand eligibility for the booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Nathanson says at this point, there is some evidence that the additional dose may help bolster protection from serious disease.

"None of us wants to be a part of the chain of transmission, and none of us wants to risk having immunity that falls below a threshold to protect us from serious disease, hospitalization and death," he says. "So widespread administration of boosters is a very important part of protecting ourselves and others from this pandemic."

RAPID TESTING

The critical care specialist says that rapid testing continues to play a pivotal role in helping to determine if any symptoms are a result of a COVID-19 infection.

With the continued advancement of various drugs to be used in the treatment of COVID-19, the use of rapid testing may become more prevalent in being used at those who get a positive test.

"It can lead to the availability or the seeking of access to medications," says Dr. Nathanson. "So if I have a positive rapid test, if that were to be positive, then I might be a candidate for medication to help me from progressing to serious disease."

HOLIDAYS AND TRANSMISSION

Dr. Nathanson urges caution around the upcoming holidays with a continued surge in COVID-19 cases and growing concerns around the Omicron variant.

"The risks are still high," says Dr. Nathanson. "The risks that we see as reflected in the patients coming into the hospital. The risk of serious disease for some is still high."

Dr. Nathanson says large indoor gatherings should be avoided, noting that due to the waning efficacy of the vaccines, even those who are fully vaccinated remain more vulnerable than originally thought.