Hamilton’s growing COVID-19 cases still outpacing worst case modelling forecast by weeks

Hamilton’s COVID-19 case numbers in late August continued to surpass expectations laid out in the worst-case modelling scenario by public health earlier in the month.

The city’s current seven day case rate — averaging 77 per day — is beyond the predicted forecast by about two weeks according to a Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) microbiologist.

“So we were about two weeks earlier than the projections in terms of the increased number of cases. What we don’t know, however, is what those curves are going to look like,” Dr. Fiona Smaill told staff during an HHS town hall on Thursday.

Read more: Ontario reports 807 new COVID-19 cases, more than 10M people now fully vaccinated

“It’s very clear that vaccination rates as high as possible and maintaining public health precautions are going to be the factors that will lead to a flattening of these rates.”

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Scarsin forecasts presented at a board of health meeting in early August predicted a sagging vaccination campaign coupled with the relieving of public measures through the fall and winter could produce another 20,000 cases, 700 hospitalizations and potentially 70 new deaths by the end of 2021.

As of Sept. 3, Hamilton remains number two among the 34 public health regions in Ontario with 7.1 per cent of COVID tests returning positive from Ontario labs. Only Windsor-Essex has a higher rate, 7.6 per cent, reported last week.

Of concern amid the increase in infections is a rise in cases with no known epidemiological link, which can hamper contact tracing efforts for health officials. On average in August, public health data showed anywhere between a third to a half of daily cases had no known epi-link.

Smaill said those numbers have altered HHS’ approach to managing patients arriving at the hospital with COVID symptoms by testing everyone, even if screening potentially reveals other reasons for an illness.

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Hamilton’s top doc admits the public health region is “leading the pack” with coronavirus cases following a comment made by Niagara Region’s acting medical officer suggesting the city was Ontario’s “epicentre of COVID.”

However, low case numbers among the city’s outbreaks in the past month is “good news,” according Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, suggesting that vaccinations and measures including masking are helping.

The exception was the recent large outbreak at Sizzle nightclub on Hess Avenue mid-month that produced 51 cases which Richardson believes “underscores” the concern in group settings and the reason the province has opted for a vaccine certificate program.

Read more: Rate of COVID-19 cases 12 times higher among unvaccinated than vaccinated: PHAC

The MOH concurs with the mid-August assessment made by the province’s chief medical officer who predicted a “difficult fall”  particularly through the third or fourth week of September when many will go indoors, including students and school staff.

“We are expecting to see cases, we are expecting to see outbreaks, and we’re going to have to to manage them as best we can” Richardson told Global News.

“We need to all take steps to increase those protections that are there for us, the vaccination rates, the continued use of public health measures.”

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Hamilton reports 80 new cases, 1 death

Hamilton public health reported the city’s 407th COVID-19-related death on Friday in addition to another 80 infections.

City data revealed the latest death was a person in their 40s. There have been seven deaths in people under 50 since the pandemic began.

Over 76 per cent of active cases as of Aug. 3 are among Hamiltonians under 50 with 47 per cent in people under 30.

Hospitalizations for COVID increased day over day by three cases with three of the current 49 in hospital having to move into an intensive care unit (ICU).

Read more: Lime Ridge set to host COVID-19 vaccine clinics on the weekend

One new outbreak tied to a resident case was reported on Thursday at the St. Leonard’s Society in central Hamilton. The city has 18 outbreaks as of Friday involving 76 total cases.

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Small surges at the Beer Store on Cootes Drive and Today’s Family Greendale childcare on the Mountain were declared over on Thursday. The settings reported two and six cases respectively.

Ontario reached a milestone of over 10 million fully vaccinated on Sept. 2. Close to 77 per cent of the eligible (12 and older) population have now had at least two shots while first dose coverage stands at 83.3 per cent.

Hamilton is still lagging behind the provincial average with just 72.8 per cent fully vaccinated while just over 80 per cent have had at least one dose.

The city is 31 out of 34 health regions in second dose coverage with only Chatham-Kent, Porcupine (Timmins area), and Haldimand-Norfolk faring worse for fully vaccinated residents.

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