“Declines in community cases and test positivity have levelled off. Cases are increasing in most public health units as we see mobility rise,” Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, the co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, told reporters Thursday afternoon.
“The variants of concern continue to spread across Ontario and our ability to control the rate of spread will determine whether we return to normal, or we face a third wave of infection.”
Officials once again said the coming weeks will be “critical” in determining what restrictions will be in place for the summer, noting masking and distancing restrictions will be needed to control the spread of more contagious variants of COVID-19.
“We know exactly what to do,” he said.
“Although it’s hard, and I know that everyone is at their limits, just a bit more discipline with masking and distancing will help bring cases down.”
The projections estimated that in the next two to three weeks, COVID-19 rates could grow to up to 8,000 new cases a day under the worst-case scenario, depending on the spread of variants.
If public health measures are followed and restrictions are put in place to contain any sudden spikes, the projections indicated that rate could be held to just under 2,000 cases a day.
“There is a lot of uncertainty right now and with that, a lot of risk, and a lot of danger,” Brown said.
If case rates are again allowed to increase, he warned there remains a danger that Ontario’s hospital system will be overwhelmed.
Even under an optimistic scenario, which sees a “small” capacity increase, Brown said the province could still see 400 patients occupying intensive care beds weekly.
“It’s important to note that this is not (just) a small increase,” he said.
“This is an increase on top of an already strained system which creates a challenge in access to care.”
The COVID-19 Science Advisory Table sounded the alarm on deferred care and missed screening for other chronic diseases.
“There will be a substantial and prolonged surge in the need for care across sectors. Our actions now will actually determine our ability to access care later,” Brown said.
For example, the presentation highlighted an earlier “substantial” decline in cancer screening tests will result in “long-term consequences for cancer outcomes.”
Looking at the province’s surgical backlog, the Table reported there were zero surgical cases as of March 15, 2020. The total jumped to roughly 75,000 cases in May, and that’s when the surgical restart program began. As of February, there were 227,410 cumulative backlogged surgical cases.
However, there was encouraging news contained in the province’s data.
Brown said COVID-19 vaccinations in long-term care facilities continue to pay off with the number of resident and staff cases declining. He also said deaths have flattened with one resident death reported in nearly a week.
— With files from The Canadian Press