Focus on vaccinating long-term care residents has paid off according to new provincial modelling data out Thursday

Best case scenario indicates status quo into April, worst case predicts 8,000 new cases a day

Ontario health officials say efforts to vaccinate those in long-term care has really paid off, but progress elsewhere is stalling.

Dr. Steini Brown of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table released modelling data on Thursday that indicates a huge drop-off in cases among long-term care residents and staff since vaccination efforts began.

However, Brown notes progress in lessening cases elsewhere is levelling off and how we all conduct ourselves over the next two weeks will dictate how open or restrictive a summer we’ll have, especially with variants at play. “Despite the success on vaccination, there is so much danger ahead, mobility is increasing,” said Dr. Brown. “The proportion of cases that are new variants of concern is also increasing steadily. So, this means the risk of being exposed to someone with the disease has increased. It also means that the risk of catching the disease has increased.”

We can see early indicators of these dangers, 24 out of our 34 public health units have seen an increase in case rates over the past two weeks. And of these 14 public health units have seen growth of more than thirty per cent.” he added, reiterating an analogy made at his last modelling presentation that the coming weeks are like navigating a minefield. “We’re still in the early stages of our journey through the minefield, our intensive care units are still under pressure. And a sudden jump in admissions to these units will put our hospital system under immense strain.”

While dependence on the healthcare system has decreased slightly and has levelled off, Brown points out it is nowhere near close to the point where surgeries can resume, adding hospital bed occupancy has decreased while ICU occupancy has remained constant.

According to the modelling data released on Thursday, what happens over the coming weeks is totally dependent on the spread of variants across Ontario. A best-case scenario foresees daily case counts remaining below the 2,000-mark through to April, while the provincial worst-case model indicates Ontario could see upwards of 8,000 new cases in a third wave.

Brown said, while cases continue to rise in some areas, the province has to focus on dealing with the backlog of surgical procedures. “It’s time as we keep the goal of a great summer and the eventual retreat of the pandemic in front of us to think about repairing our health system,” said Brown. “This backlog reflects two distinct problems: the first, the amount of care that we’ve had to postpone for the crisis. And second, the number of patients who appear to have stayed away from health care, even when they needed it.”

“If we are able to continue masking and distancing, to continue with public health measures whether necessary, will create a much better context for vaccination,” concluded Brown. “We will also really make sure that we control this pandemic and bring us towards the promise that everyone wants, of a much better summer, much better even perhaps than last year. And our actions now really do determine not only the progress against the pandemic but our ability to access care later.”