Ontario heading into another COVID-19 wave, expert says

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Ontario is in the “very early part” of a sixth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, one expert says.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases expert with University Health Network, said if you look around the province, and at “wastewater signals,” it is “pretty clear that there’s a growing burden of COVID in many communities across the province.”

Bogoch said the “signals are very clear.”

Data released on March 17 by the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said the province’s wastewater signal had stopped declining and was increasing slightly. The data also showed the province’s test positivity rate had stopped declining.

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Bogoch said it’s difficult to know what the true daily case count is and what the seven-day average is due to lack of testing, but that “it’s pretty clear that there’s more COVID now than there was a week ago (or) two weeks ago.”

“We’re in the very early part of a wave in not just Ontario, but also probably many other parts of the country,” he said. “What’s not quite clear is how big is this wave going to be, and how significantly will this impact us?”

Bogoch said numbers such as hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care units are “delayed metrics.”

“I don’t think anyone would be surprised if in a few days, or sometime next week we start to see a rise in hospitalizations as well, that corresponds with the rise in cases,” he said.

“So stay tuned. I mean, it’s clear that we’re in a wave, it’s just not quite clear how big this wave is going to be, and how significantly it’s going to impact us.”

Bogoch said while we can’t stop a wave altogether, the tools we have used to weather previous surges during the pandemic will remain useful.

That includes wearing masks and getting vaccinated.

“I appreciate that in much of Canada, the mask mandates have been lifted,” he said. “But you know, it’s still a really good idea, especially with a rise in COVID in the community setting, to wear a mask in those indoor settings.”

Bogoch said while vaccines will help prevent some people from getting sick with the virus, they are very useful in preventing people from becoming seriously ill if they do contract COVID-19.

“This is the kind of situation where people are eligible for dose one or dose two or those three — it’s a wonderful time to get it,” he said.

Bogoch said this wave isn’t predicted to be as large as the wave the province saw earlier this year.

“But it’s still going to be a wave, it’s just unlikely to cause the same degree of disruption in Ontario,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it’s not going to cause disruption. Sadly, some people are going to get sick, some people are going to end up in hospital and some people are going to die, and it’s awful. It’s awful.”

But Bogoch said we “certainly have the tools to prevent a lot of that,” pointing to masks and vaccines.

“These are very simple tools that are easy, readily available, safe, effective, and they can certainly mitigate the significance of this wave,” he said.

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Speaking at a press conference last week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the province is prepared for an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, but he did not say if his government would reintroduce any public health measures in response.

“Let’s continue making sure that we move forward in a cautious way,” he said. “Let’s talk about that – if God forbid that ever happens – at the time.”

What’s more, speaking at an event in Toronto on Tuesday, the province’s Health Minister Christine Elliott said Ontario is now in a place where it can “safely manage COVID-19 for the long term.”

Dr. Peter Juni a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Toronto and scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said if Ontario “plays this in a smart way” the province should be in a less challenging situation than in other waves.

However, Juni said some people have embraced “more risky behaviour,” noting that many have decided to stop wearing a mask in public spaces.

“We’re going a bit fast, and that’s the challenge,” he said. “If we could moderate our behaviour for a few more weeks, that would be tremendously helpful.”

Juni said it’s also important to keep an eye on hospital capacity and staffing levels.

He cautioned that if a significant portion of hospital staff are “knocked out” by COVID-19, it could create a challenge for the province’s health-care system.

“If we take things a bit slower and make sure that we don’t have a tremendously high peak — you can just monitor that in our wastewater — then we will make sure that our health-care system is not starting to struggle again,” he said.

By the numbers

On Tuesday, the province reported 790 people are now in an Ontario hospital with COVID-19.

The data, released Tuesday, said 165 people are receiving care in an intensive care unit (ICU) with the virus.

Both numbers are higher than those reported a day earlier.

On Monday, 655 people were in hospital in Ontario, with 158 in an ICU.

The province also reported seven new COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday.

A total of 1,610 new cases were reported, however, experts caution that the number is an underrepresentation of the virus’s spread as testing has been limited in Ontario.

Provincial data shows 12,302 tests were completed over the last day, with a positivity rate of 14.4 per cent.

Monday’s test positivity rate of 17.9 per cent was the highest since late January, when it hit 18.8 per cent during the Omicron wave.

— with files from The Canadian Press

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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