Ontario’s top doctor says there haven’t been any known intensive care admissions in the province yet due to the Omicron COVID variant, but an impact on the hospital sector is expected in “the coming days and weeks.”
Dr. Kieran Moore provided an update Tuesday on the COVID-19 situation in Ontario.
He said out of 4,600 confirmed Omicron cases in Ontario, there have been 15 hospitalizations, though it is still being investigated whether Omicron was the reason for hospitalization for all of those affected or if it was incidental.
Omicron is now believed to be the dominant COVID strain in Ontario, meaning there are likely many more than 4,600 Omicron cases in the province, but the additional testing required to identify a COVID strain can take some time.
Moore said there haven’t been any known ICU admissions in Ontario due to the Omicron variant, but cautioned that an impact is expected on the health-care sector.
“Hospitalizations have increased by nine per cent in the last week and while the ICU occupancy remains stable, we anticipate in the coming days and weeks, we will start to see a greater impact of Omicron on hospitalizations and our intensive care unit,” Moore said of the province’s COVID trends.
“Early evidence indicates that Omicron is four to eight times more transmissible than the Delta variant and as of last week, Omicron has become the dominant strain in Ontario.”
Moore said of the 165 people currently in Ontario ICUs due to COVID, it’s believed that most have been affected by the Delta variant.
“The vast majority of those … are still Delta admissions given that they’re occurring in the southwest, which continues to be a hotspot for the Delta virus,” he said.
“We’re actively monitoring when all of that transitions to Omicron and trying to separate when Omicron starts having an impact on hospitalizations and on admission to the intensive care unit as a signal that we are going to have to take potential extra precautions and monitor the situation very closely.”
He said he considers daily case numbers, the positivity rate, hospitalizations, and ICU admissions when determining if additional public health measures may be required.
Moore also noted that the relatively low hospitalization rate thus far has been seen with confirmed Omicron cases among younger populations.
“Admittedly, that’s in a much younger population that’s gotten Omicron,” he said in reference to the 4,600 confirmed cases.
“They’ve got it through social activities. They’re in the 20 to 30 age range which has a low risk for adverse events associated with COVID in general. But we’re now monitoring every single admission in Ontario.”
He said in addition to monitoring trends at home, they are watching other jurisdictions around the world that are facing an Omicron surge to try to determine the strain’s virulence.
“I think we’re being prudent in preparing for the worst. I certainly hope for the best and I’m optimistic but I don’t want to overcall it,” Moore said.
“I’m not seeing a significant severity signal today in terms of ICU use or hospitalization in England. We’re looking at data on a regular basis.”
Moore said that even if the strain is “significantly less” virulent, it could still have an impact on the hospital sector because of how quickly it spreads.
He said he hasn’t yet made a “firm conclusion” on how virulent Omicron is and said that officials will continue monitoring the situation over the coming week.
Moore was also asked about a possible delay to the return to school come January.
Despite the uncertainties, Moore said experts he has consulted with currently “don’t see a reason” to make changes to the planned return.
He noted that Omicron doesn’t currently appear to have “any significant impact on children’s health.” He also said 38.3 per cent of Ontarians aged 5 to 11 have received a COVID vaccine dose and added that measures are in place to keep schools safe.
Ultimately it is a government decision and officials continue to monitor COVID trends, Moore said.
Record daily case numbers expected in Ontario
Moore also said Tuesday that COVID-19 cases in Ontario are rising at an exponential rate and the province is on track to see more daily cases than at any point during the pandemic.
But he said the province is still in a better position than last year with vaccines and antiviral treatments now available.
Ontario reported 3,453 cases Tuesday, compared to 1,429 on the same day last week.
Test positivity hit 9.9 per cent, meaning almost 1 in 10 tests are coming back positive for COVID — the highest seen since the end of April. Last week, test positivity was at 6.6 per cent.
The province recently implemented new restrictions in response to the rise in cases, including capacity limits, smaller caps on informal gathering sizes, and restrictions on food and beverage service at some facilities.
Booster shot eligibility also expanded to those aged 18+ this week. Officials continue to call on eligible residents to get the additional shot and have said it provides more protection against severe outcomes from the Omicron variant.
— with files from Gabby Rodrigues