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Doug Ford says Ontario prepared to handle an increase in COVID cases, hospitalizations

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Ontario is prepared for an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Premier Doug Ford said Friday, but he wouldn’t say yet if he will reintroduce any public health measures to respond to it.

The province reported 667 people in hospital with COVID-19 on Friday, the second day in a row that number has increased.

Ontario also reported 2,761 new cases of COVID-19, but the province’s top doctor has said the actual number is likely 10 times higher than the daily log, since access to PCR testing is restricted.

Read more: TDSB chair expresses concerns about effects of COVID-related isolation on kindergarten students

Another indicator public health experts are using to track COVID-19 activity is wastewater data, and that suggests cases have been on the rise since early-to-mid-March.

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Ford said Ontario has taken a very cautious approach to reopening, as one of the last jurisdictions in North America to lift mask mandates – a move that took effect Monday. But when asked at a news conference Friday if he would reintroduce restrictions to respond to a surge, he wouldn’t say.

“Let’s continue making sure that we move forward in a cautious way,” he said. “Let’s talk about that – if God forbid that ever happens – at the time.”

Health Minister Christine Elliott said the chief medical officer of health predicted that COVID-19 activity would increase as restrictions were loosened.

“We are confident that we have the capabilities in our hospitals to be able to take care of anyone who needs a hospital bed or needs to be in intensive care,” she said.

“But this (increase) is something that was suggested we would see in any event, so it’s not surprising to us at all.”

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Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases expert with University Health Network, said it’s clear Ontario is at the beginning of a spring wave.

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“I think what’s unclear is how big this wave is going to be,” he said in an interview. “Some of the modelling suggests that it’s not going to be nearly as impactful or large as prior waves. I hope that’s accurate.”

Modelling released last week by Ontario’s science advisory table ahead of mask mandates being lifted this past Monday in most settings suggested if there is a moderate increase in COVID-19 transmission, hospitalizations will likely rise, though not by as much as in January.

The modelling suggested there could be fewer than 900 hospitalizations at a peak in early May — a far cry from the more than 4,000 people in hospital with COVID-19 in January.

ICU occupancy could rise to about 300 in the moderate transmission increase scenario, the experts suggested. In January it rose to nearly 600 people and in the spring of 2021, it was more than 800.

The government should be prepared to reintroduce mask mandates, reintroduce vaccine certificates and require a third dose if necessary, and continue to improve ventilation and air filtration in public spaces, the experts said.

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Ford and Elliott said Ontario is well-positioned to deal with increasing cases because of a robust hospital capacity, the availability of antiviral treatments, and the province’s high vaccination rate.

Ontario can “ramp up” to 3,000 ICU beds, Ford said.

But front-line physician Dr. Michael Warner said that’s not so simple.

Read more: Ontario COVID numbers: 667 people in hospital, 161 in intensive care

“Those of us who actually work in ICUs know that ramping up to 3,000 beds is not only impossible, but a dangerous thing to say,” tweeted Warner, a critical care doctor at Toronto’s Michael Garron Hospital.

“It provides false reassurance that we have the person power to manage a surge of that size.”

There are 161 people with COVID-19 in intensive care units. Fifteen more COVID-19 deaths were reported Friday.

Almost 90 per cent of residents aged five and older have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 86.4 per cent have at least two.

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