A Hamilton infectious disease expert says the province’s dropping daily case numbers mean Ontario is on the “right track” in suppressing COVID-19 but he suggests with less than 30 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, the ever-present Delta variant could “prolong the battle.”
Dr. Dominik Mertz with Hamilton Health Sciences told Global News public health units have been generally “stable” over the past few weeks, which he credits to the large numbers of residents who have gotten at least one shot of the approved vaccines available at clinics.
However, he says the “curveball” variants of concern (VOC), like Delta, could keep the affliction around for an indefinite period.
“So it will prolong our battle, I would say, until we have higher vaccination rates eventually,” Mertz said.
“But I mean, obviously, when we look at our case numbers, many public health units have been stable for a very long period of time on very low numbers.”
Mertz says the difference in Ontario’s situation compared to a year ago is the emergence of vaccines with first-dose adult coverage sitting at 76.7 per cent as of Thursday.
Despite the emergence of the Delta variant, estimated to be involved in 52 per cent of the province’s positive cases as of June 23, overall case number are now closing in on the same lows seen a year ago, when public health reported just seven new cases on June 24, 2020.
“Even for the higher transmittable Delta, we have an Rt (reproduction number) of less than one, which means regardless of what the strain is, things are moving in the right direction still,” said Mertz.
Ontario’s Rt number – representing the average number of people an infected person is passing COVID-19 on to – checked in at 0.87 on Wednesday. Hamilton’s Rt number was lower, 0.64, when last reported on Friday.
Mertz believes as days go by, reported case numbers become more “meaningless” compared to hospital admission numbers, which show the true effects of the virus in 2020.
“What we really want to know is vaccine status and then look at what’s the health impact of those infections,” said Mertz.
As of Thursday, Ontario reported 284 people in hospitals with COVID-19 (down by 11 from the previous day). There are 300 patients in intensive care units, down by five day over day.
The number of COVID-19 patients in local hospitals moved ever so slightly lower in Hamilton day over day by one to 29 combined cases at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) and St. Joe’s.
HHS has 17 COVID-19 patients as of Thursday with 10 in intensive care (ICU). St. Joe’s has 12 COVID-19 cases, all in ICUs.
Although declining, Mertz says the continuing concern in Hamilton is ICU numbers, which are still much higher in proportion compared to last June.
With the province’s test positivity rate hitting its lowest point since late September 2020, 1.1 per cent on Thursday, the Ford government moved up its timeline for Step 2 of its reopening plan by a couple of days to Wednesday, June 30.
The number of Hamilton’s tests coming back from labs as positive is still higher than the province’s rate, checking in at 2.2 per cent as of Thursday.
Mertz says immune systems boosted by vaccines should make a difference this year compared to last year, when the lifting of a stay-at-home order provided an environment for a non-vaccinated population to infect numbers that ultimately led to a significant third wave of the pandemic.
“We had basically a normal immune population around us,” said Mertz.
“So every infected person found many others who were susceptible to get infected.”
More than 488,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered through Hamilton clinics and pharmacies as of Thursday, representing 72.7 per cent of the city’s adult population and 55 per cent of youth aged 12 to 17.
More than 13 million total COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered in Ontario as of Wednesday.
There are more than 3.5 million people fully vaccinated with two doses, which equals 29.1 per cent of the adult population.
At least 34 million total doses have been administered in Canada to date with 66.61 per cent of people having had at least one dose and 22.77 per cent now fully vaccinated.
Hamilton reports 21 new COVID-19 cases, 1 new outbreak
Hamilton reported 21 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday and a slight increase in active cases for the first time in five days.
Active cases had a slight bump by nine, moving from 133 on Wednesday to 142 as of June 24.
More than 71 per cent of the city’s active cases are among people under the age of 50, with about 21 per cent of cases among those aged 19 and under.
The city’s seven-day average case rate also had a slight bump by one to 17.
Hamilton now has four reported outbreaks across the city involving 22 cases, with a new surge at a daycare on the west Mountain.
The outbreak involves two patrons at the Meadowlands Preschool & Daycare on Golf Links Road.
The largest of the city’s ongoing outbreaks is at the Denholme Manor supportive home, which accounts for 12 cases since May 23.View link »