Third wave of COVID-19 has 'crested' in Ontario but cases remain high, modelling shows
TORONTO -- New modelling data released by the province suggests the third wave is now finally "cresting" but the current situation remains very "precarious."
Experts with Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table presented the new data during a news conference on Thursday, as infection numbers in the province dropped below the 4,000 mark for several days.
"This week, we will share data that has some hope, but it's hope that requires a commitment. The third wave of COVID cases appears to be cresting now," Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, the co-chair of the advisory table, said.
"Doubling down on this commitment means the cases will come down faster … there's clear reason for hope, but this hope requires a commitment, a dead set determination to see the job through."
"The third wave isn't cresting on its own. You are making it happen. It's happening because of our daily choices together."
The data showed mobility rates drop significantly throughout April, resulting in a decrease in case growth. However, officials noted that workplace mobility is high and its reduction is key in lowering infection rates.
Premier Doug Ford issued a stay-at-home order in early April after experts within and outside his government urgently called for the closure of non-essential businesses and services.
Brown said the third wave cresting is due to lower mobility rates. He said that while retail, recreation and transit mobility has fallen significantly, workplace mobility, which refers to essential workers travelling to job sites, remains high.
The science table is now calling for even stronger measures to curb case growth.
Projections released on Thursday show that without stronger measures, daily cases would remain above 2,000 in June.
With stronger measures in place, including effective sick pay, a further shortlist of essential workplaces, low mobility, and more vaccinations, case numbers could drop below 1,000 by early June.
Officials said that variants, which transmit faster, are responsible for more than 90 per cent of the cases in Ontario.
Brown said while case numbers are cresting, they are cresting at a "very high level," and added that positivity rates remain high.
"It is important to point out as well that the number of cases is still very, very high," he told reporters during a news conference on Thursday afternoon.
"The current plateau is very precarious. This is a place where you can either start to drive down the pandemic … or if we see a change, as we have seen in the past, we could see substantial exponential growth or really a continuation of the third wave or a fourth wave."
ICU occupancy remains high despite COVID-19 case growth decline
Officials reported during the modelling data that intensive care occupancy in Ontario remains at records high, adding that it continues to climb despite a decrease in hospitalization and COVID-19 case counts.
"Our healthcare system is no longer functioning normally," Brown said. "This is an incredibly challenging time for our health system and that has not changed even with a crest in the case numbers."
"We know that care in the intensive care units will persist for a while and it's this occupancy of our intensive care units which is such a significant threat to currently to our health system."
The projections for ICU rates show with the current case growth it remains above 800 patients for a while. In the best-case scenario, the occupancy rate falls to 500 by end of May, which remains "a very high level."
Brown said the high ICU rates will prevent a restart to surgeries for some time and that clearing the surgical backlog of more than 200,000 patients will be "an enormous challenge."
He reminded Ontario residents, however, that hospitals are ready to care for all patients in need of emergency medical support.
"To be clear, it’s not safer to stay at home when you need help even now. If you, you need a hospital, please get to a hospital," he said.
Officials noted that vaccinations for people living in hot spot neighbourhoods is improving and remains key to controlling case growth. More than 4.5 million doses have been administered to people across Ontario so far.
"We know what to do now, and it's starting to stick, it's starting to work and this can give us all hope. They key thing is now to stick with it,” Brown said. “We have the power to end this pandemic, if we stay committed to the course."
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, who helped present the data and projections on Thursday, said indoor gatherings remain very high risk.
He stressed, however, that outdoor settings are "considerably" safer than indoor settings if precautions are taken against the new variants. He advised wearing a mask outdoors when it is not possible to socially distance.