COVID-19 in Ontario: Omicron variant will drive 'real rise in cases', drive numbers 'above current projections', experts warn

·4 min read

Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table is warning of "a real rise in cases" in most public health units led by the Delta variant, while information about the Omicron variant continues to be revealed.

Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table
Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table

"Spread of the new Omicron variant will likely drive COVID-19 cases above current projections," the information from the group reads.

"In South African data, vaccination appears to protect against serious illness due to Omicron and most hospitalizations are in the unvaccinated. There is likely an increased risk of re-infection even amongst people those who have had COVID-19, emphasizing the importance of vaccination."

Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table
Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table

If there is no change in number of contacts and 30 per cent of five to 11 year old children are vaccinated by the end of December, COVID-19 cases will reach 3,000 a day in January 2022. If 50 per cent of children in that age group are vaccinated by the end of the month, daily COVID-19 cases in Ontario will exceed 1,500 in January.

If Ontario can see a 15 per cent decrease in transmission by adding public health measures to decrease contacts, and 30 per cent of five to 11 year-olds are vaccinated by the end of December, COVID-19 cases will remain around 1,000 cases per day into next year.

Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table
Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table

While hospitalizations in Ontario are stable right now, ICU occupancy is likely to exceed 250 by the end of the month, even without factoring in the Omicron variant.

ICU occupancy would approach 400 in January in Ontario if there is no change in the number of contacts but 30 per cent of five to 11 year old children are vaccinated by the end of December, or it could reach 300 if 50 per cent of children in that age group are vaccinated by the end of the month.

"Due to the need for urgent non-COVID-19 patient care, fewer staff are available to be redeployed and fewer staffed surge spaces are available," the findings from the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table reads.

"There is a growing crisis in staffing for critical care patients with significant contribution from health care worker burnout. Despite new beds and strong management, ICUs will be challenged in responding to any new surge in patients because of staffing constraints."

Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table
Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table

Testing across the province has been flat since mid-July, but testing positivity is rising. Ontario's test positivity was at 2.5 per cent at the end of November, with Haldimand-Norfolk sitting above the provincial metric at 5.6 per cent, Southwestern at 5.5 per cent and Windsor at 5.1 per cent.

Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table
Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table

Looking at the presence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant in Ontario, the advisory table warn that the impact of the variant on cases could be "substantial."

If Omicron is moderately more infectious and vaccines are moderately less effective, there is no change in contacts and 50 per cent of five to 11 year-olds in Ontario are vaccinated by end of December, daily COVID-19 cases could exceed 2,000 a day in January 2022. If the variant is "much more" infectious and vaccines are "much less" effective, cases will rise to 3,000 a day.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, called these projections from the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table "disconcerting."

"We’re seeing a continued rise in cases across Ontario and its impact on the healthcare system," Dr. Moore said at a press conference on Tuesday. "To me, as a public health physician, all of the cases, for the most part, are preventable."

"It saddens me deeply to see the vast majority of individuals in our intensive care units, they’re unvaccinated, they never took advantage of the means to protect themselves... I am concerned about the coming months and its potential impact on our healthcare system."

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