Ontario’s COVID-19 infections have reached a precarious plateau as some areas in the province cap off their sixth month in lockdown.
“The third wave of COVID-19 cases appears to be cresting down,” Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said at a news conference Thursday.
He cautioned against too much optimism too soon, saying case levels could easily rise again.
“It’s tempting to relax when the numbers turn your way. It will not work,” he said. “I’m making a case to get on top of this disease … We cannot afford a fourth wave.”
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Case levels could trend as low as February levels by the end of the Stay-at-Home order on May 19, according to the modelling’s best case prediction.
Test positivity is still very high, with Peel leading the province with 18%. Ontario’s testing rates also remain flat, meaning higher positivity reflects higher transmission.
“The current plateau is very precarious,” Brown said.
Although hospitalizations are flattening, Brown predicts ICU occupancy will continue to rise, and will remain above the level necessary to restart surgeries for some time. Under best case assumptions, ICU occupancy won’t come down below 500 until the end of May.
Ontario’s Stay-at-Home order April 8, and mobility levels have come down since then. But Brown said there are still too many trips to and from work happening, and he recommended limiting essential workplaces and keeping sick workers home.
More transmittable variants of concern are now responsible for the vast majority of cases, most variant cases are the B.1.1.7. strain. The P.1. variant hasn’t taken as much of a hold in Ontario compared to Canada’s West Coast, but Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams cautioned that situation could easily change.
More and more Ontarians are getting vaccinated, and distribution has become more equitable since the province began its focus on hotspot neighbourhoods. Brown commended officials for committing 50% of available vaccines to high transmission areas.
Brown also predicted that restrictions on outdoor activities and school closures would be the first to lift if cases continue to trend down.