“There is no easy path through minefield. Just care and caution at each step,” Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, the co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, told reporters Thursday afternoon.
“The next few weeks will give us a map through the minefield but we cannot afford to rush through the minefield without that map.”
The findings were contained in a modelling data report released Thursday afternoon. It said variants of concern, such as the B.1.1.7, are continuing to spread across Ontario and that means cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions will likely increase.
“Evidence-based approaches to key public health measures, such as focusing (on) vaccination where it has the biggest impacts on deaths and hospitalizations, are the key to controlling the impact of the pandemic at this point,” Brown said.
“The next few weeks are critical to understanding the impact of the variants. There is a period of remaining risk before the pandemic likely recedes in the summer.”
With targeted vaccinations at long-term care facilities and lockdown measures, officials highlighted how the number of infections and deaths at those homes reduced “rapidly.”
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However, even in the group’s best-case scenario, intensive care bed occupancy will likely remain at, or far above, the threshold at which quality of care is impacted.
If gains can be maintained, Brown said there could potentially be more openings in the coming summer compared to summer 2020.
The findings outlined how weekly growth in cases linked to variants of concern, which are reported to be more easily transmissible, is matching other countries, meaning there’s a strong possibility of increased cases. In Ontario, the data said it’s likely by the middle of March 40 per cent of COVID-19 will be variants of concern.
Those variants do not appear to have spread as quickly as anticipated, Brown said, but in the most likely scenario, the province will see around 2,000 new cases per day by the end of March. In the worst-case scenario, it would be closer to 4,000 cases per day, similar to the growth seen in other jurisdictions like the United Kingdom where virus variants have taken hold.
The numbers also showed cases and test positivity rates starting to trend upwards across the province, including in hot spots Toronto, Peel Region and York Region.
“We must be nimble in applying public health measures to extinguish flare-ups quickly, and there will be flare-ups (but) we just need to stay on them and work very quickly through them,” Brown said.
— With files from The Canadian Press