Ontario’s science advisers say easing restrictions will increase COVID-19 cases

Pressure on ICUs is expected to be prolonged

Allison Jones – The Canadian Press

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions will likely increase again following this week’s reopening, Ontario’s expert science advisers said Tuesday in new modelling that shows “prolonged” pressure on the health system.

This wave appears to have plateaued or could be in decline, but the size of a resurgence is difficult to predict because it will depend on factors such as vaccination and masking, and the spread of the Omicron variant, the experts said. 

The spread is challenging to track because of limits on who can access PCR testing, but Ontario’s COVID-19 wastewater signal suggests cases peaked around Jan. 11, and there may have been between 1.5 million and four million infections since Dec. 1.

“Public health measures helped control this phase,” the experts say in the modelling. “Relaxation of these measures will increase the spread of COVID-19.”

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said the modelling confirms that the public health measures introduced in early January – including the closure of many businesses and further limits on social gathering sizes – helped blunt COVID-19 transmission.

“While we know that the coming weeks will continue to be difficult for our hospital partners, hospitalizations are currently stable and given current trends, we are confident in our ability to ensure capacity so that patients can access the care they need,” Alexandra Hilkene said in a statement. 

“As Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health has said, we need to learn to live with COVID-19. Thanks to our high vaccination rates as well as the arrival of antivirals, Ontario has the tools necessary to manage the impact of this virus.” 

Ontario reported 3,091 people in hospital Tuesday with COVID-19 and 568 people in intensive care. That’s down from 4,008 hospitalizations and 594 in ICU a week ago.

The province also reported 63 more COVID-19 deaths.

The expert modelling shows a wide range of scenarios for hospital admissions after many businesses and facilities were allowed to reopen this week with capacity limits, up to nearly 6,000 admissions by mid-March.

The scenarios depend partly on how many people in the community have immunity from recent Omicron infections.

Projections for intensive care unit occupancy also show a range of possibilities, but while the experts say there is considerable uncertainty about the levels, the pressure on ICUs is expected to be prolonged.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce also announced Tuesday that 3.6 million more rapid antigen tests are being sent to schools for students and staff.

Eight schools were listed Tuesday as being closed due to COVID-19 operational reasons, and 156 schools reported staff and student absence rates of 30 per cent or more.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2022. 

feature image via The Canadian Press