COVID-19 cases in Ontario will remain high into summer without six week stay-at-home order, modelling shows
TORONTO -- The third COVID-19 wave will continue into the summer if the current stay-at-home-order does not last six weeks and if Ontario does not support high-risk communities, as well as increase vaccinations, new modelling data released by the Ontario government shows.
Experts with Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table presented the new data during a news conference on Friday amid record-breaking COVID-19 infections rates and as an unprecedented number of people fight the deadly disease in intensive care.
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, the co-chair of the advisory table, stated during the modelling update that the chances of Ontario having a more normal summer with lower daily case numbers are slim and highly depend on vaccination rates and public health measures.
“If we have a very strong adherence to the public health measures, if we were able to really tamp down the spread of the virus right now and if we are able to get as many vaccines as we can into arms – if that were to happen, you could see very low case numbers by the end of June,” Brown said.
“You really could see the receding of the pandemic, and barring the sort of things that are hard to anticipate around the new variants, you could see something of a summer, but it really requires everyone to pull together.”
“I know we're tired, I know we're demoralized and I know some of us are heartbroken. I know that all of us want to take a break, but hang in there.”
The Ontario government implemented a stay-at-home order last week after experts within and outside his government urgently called for the closure of non-essential businesses and services in order to curb the spread of the disease. The modelling data presented on Friday was released just before the Ontario government announced additional public health measures, including restrictions on interprovincial travel and an extended stay-at-home order.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters during a news conference on Friday that the upcoming changes are in response to the latest modelling data.
Brown said that without the COVID-19 measures that have been in place, and assuming a daily administering of at least 100,000 vaccinations, the province would have seen over 30,000 cases a day by late May and early June. With the current measures, which Brown described as “moderate,” the province was expected to see just over 10,000 cases a day in June.
In the best-case scenario with stronger measures, some of which the Ontario government introduced on Friday, and 100,000 vaccinations a day, fewer than 4,000 cases a day are expected by late May and early June, and the curve may eventually flatten.
All these scenarios improve drastically if vaccinations increase to 300,000 a day and the public health measures last for six weeks across the province. The modelling shows these measures would flatten the curve by the end of June.
Ontario currently does not have enough vaccines to meet the 300,000 doses per day level. Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, who presented the data alongside Brown, said the province has capacity to administer 500,000 vaccines a day, but can’t do so due to the supply issues.
Friday’s modelling data showed that mobility in Ontario has declined slightly but not enough to bring the current case growth under control, which, Brown said, indicates the current COVID-19 measures are not working as well as the government hoped.
"We've not seen that precipitous drop in mobility, you can see it coming down, but it has not been as sharp as in previous times, and that mobility is a very strong predictor of cases," he said.
Brown said a number of new measures are needed to curb the spread and work toward a better summer, including limiting mobility between different regions in the province and limiting mobility into the province.
He said more support is needed for workers to ensure COVID-19 is not brought into workplaces by helping them take time off with better sick leave provisions and to make sure there is enforcement of safe workplace activities.
“We need to stop infection coming into our central workplaces,” he said. “This means people should not have to choose between keeping food on the table, and keeping others safe by staying home.
“We need to support people so they don’t have to make that choice.”
Brown told reporters at the news conference on Friday that vaccines are not reaching high-risk communities fast enough. He said these communities have essential workers who cannot work from home. He said some of these workers live in crowded homes and do not have access to appropriate housing to isolate.
"At no fault of those individuals, the risk of exposure is highest and that's where you want to put the vaccines to help break that chain of transmission," he said. “We're now focusing more on the people who need the vaccine the most, but the disparities are still out there.
“The communities who need the vaccine the least are still getting more of it than the communities that need it the most.”
He said vaccine strategies prioritizing these areas would drastically help control the spread of the disease.
“There’s a very, very big return, if we're able to continue on with this focus of vaccines, as indicated in phase two of the strategy, focusing on high-risk communities.”
"If we want to move forward with as good as summer as we can, the stronger measures we have in place and the longer we have them in place means that we don't have to keep on doing this," Brown said.
The data showed on Friday that COVID-19 variants are now the dominate strain, but the early variant is also rising in case numbers in Ontario.
“My main concern is people do not take it seriously. That is a major concern, and that leads us into a more disastrous situation,” Williams said. “We have to do everything together and do it stringently and do it carefully, and we can make it happen, we can turn it around.”
Ontario ICUs see 51 per cent grown in COVID-19 patients over two weeks
The occupancy rates in Ontario intensive care units (ICUs) are rising dramatically, the modelling data suggests. The province has seen a 67 per cent growth in the number of people with COVID-19 admitted to hospital and a 51 per cent growth in number of people admitted to ICUs over the last two weeks.
There are currently 701 people with COVID-19 receiving treatment in ICU but the modelling suggests that the number will reach 800 by next week and 1,000 the week after under all scenarios.
Experts said stronger public health measures could help “blunt some of the impact” eventually, but the numbers will nonetheless continue to grow.
“We're starting to get to that very sharp part of the curve where growth is significant, under any of the scenarios,” Brown said. “Those numbers are baked in, that's not going to change, that's the nature of the disease."
With a six-week stay-at-home order and strong public health measures, the modelling data states that the number of people in the ICU will hit 1,500 by mid-May. With the current measures and only a four-week stay-at-home order, the province would have seen 2,000 ICU admissions by that point.
There are only about 2,300 beds available in Ontario’s ICU wards on a typical day, but the province is trying to add more.
“We're now filling up for intensive care units on top of what was still there following the second wave, and this is one of the reasons that we are in such jeopardy,” Brown said. “This level of ICU occupancy is compromising care for all patients, for all Ontarians, who may need it.”
“The new variants of concern are not only more transmissible they're also more dangerous they are more likely to result in hospitalization, they're more likely to result in intensive care unit admission and they are more likely to result in death.”