Ontario’s COVID-19 science and modelling advisory tables are reporting a cresting of cases at a “very high” level, but “incredible pressure” on the province’s intensive care units (ICUs) and elevated workplace mobility are still posing major issues in the effort to get the third wave under control.
“There’s clear reason for hope, but this hope requires a commitment, dead-set determination to see the job through,” Dr. Adalstein Brown, co-chair of the COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, told reporters Thursday afternoon, urging people to ensure that the province’s “third wave is the last wave.”
When it comes to projected daily case counts, scientists and medical professionals said Ontario avoided the worst-case of scenario (up to almost 8,000 new cases a day) due to the stay-at-home order imposed earlier in April. However, test positivity rates still remain high in two of the province’s hardest-hit regions: Toronto and Peel Region.
Looking forward, they said if the stay-at-home order is lifted in the weeks and months ahead, daily cases could reach almost 10,000 cases a day by the beginning of July. If there are moderate public health measures in place, the high daily case total could be near 5,000 by the beginning of July. If strong measures stay in place, the daily total could drop to below 1,000 at the beginning of June and a high of 2,000 by mid-July.
All three of the modelling scenarios were plotted assuming 100,000 COVID-19 vaccines are administered each day and that measures such as a continued focus on vaccinating those in high-risk communities, reducing mobility, shortening the list of essential workplaces and introducing “effective” sick pay.
After medical experts and advocates urged the Ontario government to introduce a provincial paid sick leave program, officials announced on Thursday that employers would receive reimbursement to give employees affected by COVID-19 up to three paid sick days. Brown was asked if those three days matched what was projected in the best-case modelling scenario.
“No,” he replied.
“We’ve modelled the strong, effective sick pay as beginning immediately, lasting for essentially two work weeks — so 10 days, and being at a level that allows people to not make difficult choices.”
Brown called the three days a good start and noted that it’s quick because it’s paid through employers, but said it’s a shorter period of time than is necessary.
He went on to say workplace-related mobility “remains too high” and said the list of essential businesses needs to be as small as possibe.
When it comes to Ontario’s hospitals, Brown highlighted the facilities are still under “incredible pressure.”
“Our healthcare system is no longer functioning normally,” he said.
“We’re taking the most critically ill patients and putting them in helicopters and ambulances and moving them across the province because we’re searching for beds.”
Brown’s presentation showed Ontario’s hospitals admitted an all-time number of patients in mid-April. At the peak of the third wave, almost 2,400 people were hospitalized. However, ICU admissions continue to escalate. Currently, there are a record-high number of people (just shy of 900) in critical care beds.
In recent weeks, hospital staff and paramedics have been scrambling to transfer Greater Toronto Area patients to hospitals across the province in an effort to free up capacity.
The crushing load of patients in Ontario resulted in a ramp-down of non-emergency surgeries and procedures. Officials said hospitalizations and an escalation of cases have contributed to the province’s surgical backlog, leaving the cumulative total of needed procedures at more than 257,500.
The presentation came as Ontario reported 3,871 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday. The cumulative provincial total of COVID-19 cases now stands at 459,477.
Thursday’s case count is higher than Wednesday’s 3,480 and Tuesday’s which saw 3,265 new infections, but it is the fifth day in a row cases have been lower than 4,000.
Meanwhile, in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 cases, the advisory tables reiterated that outdoor settings are “considerably safer” so long as precautions are taken to combat the new, more transmissible variants. Officials recommended wearing masks outdoors if coming within two metres of people not in the same household.
— With files from The Canadian Press and Jessica Patton
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