There will be more coronavirus deaths from the second wave of the pandemic in Ontario than the first if there isn’t a “significant reduction” in contacts, provincial modelling released Tuesday suggests.
The modelling suggests that deaths will spike before the effects of a vaccine are able to take hold.
The data shows that “mobility, and contacts between people have not decreased with the current restrictions.” While most Ontarians are trying to follow restrictions, cases will not decrease until more of the population does the same, officials said.
The new U.K. coronavirus variant also poses serious concern for Ontario, as it’s believed to be at least 56 per cent more transmissible and could reduce the doubling time for cases by more than two-thirds, according to the data.
If the variant spreads in the community, doubling time for cases could be as little as 10 days in March, the modelling showed.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Christine Elliott announced that Ontario has confirmed eight new known cases of the variant, bringing the total in the province to 14.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate medical officer of health, later said of the eight cases, five are linked to travel while three are not currently believed to be linked to travel.
“If that’s confirmed, we have evidence then of community transmission and that is a very serious concern that the vaccine will not be able to address quickly enough,” Yaffe said.
Meanwhile, the modelling also showed troubling trends for both long-term care facilities and hospitals.
Both cases and mortality have been increasing in recent weeks in long-term care. There have been 198 resident deaths and two staff deaths since Jan. 1. Forty per cent of all homes — 252 — have COVID-19 outbreaks and they are occurring in almost all public health units.
Forecasts currently show there will be more long-term care resident deaths in Ontario’s second wave than the first, when 1,815 residents died.
In a worst-case scenario, since the start of the second wave, the modelling shows 2,639 long-term care residents will die by Feb. 14, up from 1,119 as of Jan. 9.
COVID-19 patients are expected to take up around 500 intensive care beds in the province by mid-January with possibly more than 1,000 beds being occupied by February in “more severe, but realistic scenarios,” officials said.
Currently, there are more than 400 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.
“As we climb closer to 1,000 intensive care beds — about half of our capacity — filled with COVID-19 patients in February, we will have to confront choices that no doctor ever wants to make and no family ever wants to hear,” said Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, who worked on the projections.
“There will be choices about who will get the care they need and who will not. There will be choices about who receives oxygen or who is transported to hospital.”
Currently a quarter of hospitals have no intensive care beds free while another quarter have just one or two beds open.
“Surgeries are being cancelled and the access to care deficit will continue to increase with real consequences for health,” officials said in the modelling data.
The province is also forecast to see 100 deaths per day by the end of February if current restrictions continue.
“To give you an idea of this in relation to other causes of mortality, this would really put COVID-19 into competition for being the single greatest cause of mortality on a daily basis at that point, potentially larger than cancer and heart disease,” Brown said.
“It’s already larger than virtually every other cause that we look at, but this will put it into the first position with very little opportunity for challenge.”
At a growth rate of five per cent, the province could see more than 20,000 cases per day by mid-February, or 10,000 cases per day with three per cent growth. At a rate of seven per cent growth, there could be more than 40,000 cases per day in the province.
Growth is currently at around three to five per cent, Brown said.
Moreover, surveys showed 60 per cent of people have had at least one person from another household visit their home in the last four weeks despite government pleas.
Of those, 34 per cent said they didn’t observe COVID-19 restrictions, while 66 per cent said they did.
“Grey zone” or regional lockdown restrictions were shown to reduce some mobility among people, but data showed there was a “pre-holiday spike.”