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Increased vaccinations, ongoing health measures could mean 600 fewer COVID-19 cases in Hamilton

Masks are once again mandatory in indoor public spaces in the Okanagan region due to a rise in COVID-19 cases. Global News

Hamilton public health is suggesting the city could avoid a “swell” of around 600 new COVID-19 cases in August if current vaccinations rates increase and measures around masking and physical distancing continue through the summer months.

During the city’s board of health meeting on Wednesday, epidemiologist Ruth Sanderson revealed the latest Scarsin forecast — based on research developed through a partnership with Hamilton Health Sciences and St. Joe’s — which continues to suggest the Delta variant poses an unknown risk to the community.

The variable in all of the forecasts is “good data” identifying the prominence of the Delta variant, which is unclear in many current cases due to difficulties Ontario’s labs have identifying the strain of the virus.

Read more: Ontario reports 194 new COVID-19 cases, zero deaths for the first time since last year

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“We don’t really have good up-to-date data that tells us what the Delta level is now among our cases,” said Sanderson.

“We estimate that it’s likely between 50 to 60 per cent on June 28.”

Although cases are dropping in Waterloo Region, the public health unit struggled through June with a rash of new infections tied to the Delta variant, which held local municipalities back from entering Step 2 of Ontario’s reopening plan in late June.

Sanderson’s potential worst-case scenario modelled some of what happened in Waterloo in June and centred around the potential of 70 per cent of Hamilton’s current cases being from the Delta variant.

The potential discovery could then impact 92 per cent of all active cases by July 12, potentially creating over 1,300 new COVID-19 cases between July 7 and Aug. 31.

That’s around 600 more than the city’s best-case scenario of 760 cases during the same time period.

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The forecast also suggests that even though the bulk of the new cases will be in young people, half of new hospitalizations tied to COVID-19 would more likely affect people over 60.

“The current forecast continues to be very positive, however, outbreaks of the Delta variant could change our future case trajectories in Hamilton, as they did in Waterloo,” said Sanderson.

City plans 'sustainable' COVID-19 vaccination strategy, walk-ins for first doses coming

Barring the worst-case scenario, Hamilton is planning a transition from its current vaccination program to a more sustainable option by mid-August by decelerating activity in its large-scale clinics.

The city’s medical officer of health says the objective revolves around a target of having 75 per cent of residents in every area code with two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Overall, we feel that’s very doable when it comes to looking at it, FSA (forward sorting area codes) by FSA,” Richardson said.

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“That’s where it becomes more challenging to reach those objectives as we go forward.”

The plan involves “onboarding” the responsibility of future vaccinations to primary care partners, occupational health, long-term care homes, emergency departments and pharmacies.

Read more: Having a more intense response to 2nd COVID-19 vaccine dose? Here’s why 

It also involves a move to a walk-in approach for first doses at all of the city large-scale clinics on Thursday and mobile clinics and over time moving to the same approach for second doses.

As of Tuesday, close to 598,000 COVID-19 doses have been administered in the city, with around 426,000 being Pfizer doses, 120,000 Moderna and just over 42,000 AstraZeneca doses.

While Hamilton’s overall vaccination rate is comparable to or better than most regions in Ontario, public health data shows rates among youth are still lagging and there are issues around the timing and booking of vaccines in areas identified as case hot spots.

As of June 27, the city had reached its target of 75 per cent first-dose vaccinations among those aged 75 and over, while eight out of 21 Hamilton FSAs have achieved the same rate among residents aged 12-plus.

The city estimates between 60 and 63 per cent of people under the age of 29 have had at least one shot of a vaccine with second doses among that age range under 30 per cent.

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Hamilton reports 19 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death

Hamilton reported just 19 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and the city’s 401st death tied to the pandemic.

Although the province reported no new COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, Hamilton public health updated its death count, adding a case involving a person in their 80s.

The city has 90 active cases with 75 per cent involving people under the age of 50. About 50 per cent of the cases are tied to people under 30 and just over 27 per cent involve people under 20.

Public health is reporting a test positivity rate for the city of 1.9 per cent as of Wednesday, slightly higher than the province’s daily number, which checked in at 0.9 per cent.

Read more: Ontario reports 194 new COVID-19 cases, zero deaths for the first time since last year

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There is just one ongoing reported outbreak in Hamilton as of Wednesday at Kirin Air Systems in the city’s east end. It involves just a pair of cases involving staffers.

Local hospitals have a combined 21 COVID-19 patients at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) and St. Joe’s.

HHS had 10 COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday, with just two in intensive care units. St. Joe’s has 11 COVID-19 cases, 10 in ICUs.

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