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Thursday, December 9, 2021

COVID-19 variants likely to make up 40 per cent of Ontario cases by mid-March, hospitalizations expected to climb

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Highly-contagious COVID-19 variants are expected to make up about 40 per cent of all cases by the second week of March, new modelling data suggests, leading to a likely increase in daily infections and hospitalizations.

The new projections released Thursday predict the province could see about 4,000 new infections daily by the end of next month in the worst-case scenario.

In the best-case scenario, that number could decrease to about 500 daily infections.

“There is a period of remaining risk before the pandemic likely recedes in the summer,” officials said. “The major challenge becomes how to protect the health system over the next few months and closely monitor the spread of all types of cases while accelerating vaccinations.”

In January, officials said that COVID-19 variants of concern made up about five per cent of COVID-19 cases. By the end of February, that number had jumped to about 20 per cent.

Speaking at a news conference Thursday afternoon, Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the province’s COVID-19 science table, used the analogy of a “minefield” to describe the threat posed by the variants of concern.

“Case numbers are down and the extended stay-at-home order in the GTA has been a powerful protection against more rapid growth, but the worst dangers are immediately in front of us,” Brown said. “Case rates are already rising in some of the public health units again and the new variants of the virus are another serious hazard ahead of us. In the United Kingdom cases tripled in a month before a much more serious lockdown brought them back under control. A big jump in mobility or a big increase in gatherings will create the same kind of dangers for us.”

“Simply, we need to watch our every step. There is no easy path through a minefield. Just care and caution with each step.”

As of Thursday, there have been 462 confirmed cases of COVID-19 variants in Ontario. The majority of variant cases have been labelled as B.1.1.7, the mutation originally found in the U.K.

More than 17,000 positive COVID-19 samples have been screened for the variants, resulting in a positivity rate of 11.3 per cent for the mutations, health officials said.

Over the last two months, Ontario has seen a significant decrease in daily COVID-19 infections.

Daily infections have dropped rather drastically in Ontario over the last two months. In January, officials were reporting anywhere from about 4,000 infections a day to about 1,600 a day. In February, that number continued to dip.

However, after four straight days of daily COVID-19 case counts in the triple digits, the number of daily infections has, for the most part, remained just above 1,000.

New infections and deaths in long-term care homes have also declined, the modelling suggests. Officials say there have been 20 resident deaths in the last seven days.

Modelling data credits the decrease in daily infections in part to public health restrictions that restricted movement across the province. This includes the province-wide lockdown and the stay-at-home order.

Two weeks ago, officials recommended that strong public health measures should remain in place in order to prevent a third wave.

Since then, all but three regions in Ontario have transitioned out of the stay-at-home order to the province’s colour-coded lockdown framework. Even under the strictest tier of the framework, some businesses would be allowed to reopen, albeit with limited capacity restrictions.

The stay-at-home order was extended in Toronto, Peel Region and North Bay until at least March 8.

Decline in hospitalization and ICU admission plateauing

The decline in daily COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and ICU admissions is slowing down, the modelling suggests.

Even in the best-case scenario, the number of admissions to the ICU remains around 150 patients. The province said that once the number of patients in intensive care gets to 150, it becomes harder to support non-COVID-19 needs in hospitals. Once it exceeds 350 people, it becomes “impossible” to handle.

This is a developing news story. More to come.

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