Ontario could see more than 10,000 new daily COVID cases by NYE
The head of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table is predicting a grim future for the province with upwards of 10,000 new daily COVID-19 cases by as early as the end of the month.
Dr. Peter Juni sounds the alarm for the reintroduction of capacity limits to help slow the spread of the Omicron variant. His latest calculations show Omicron doubling every 2.2 days.
He’s done the math, he’s made the epidemiological models, and he’s updated the COVID-19 dashboard, and the numbers don’t look good.
“It’s safe to assume that every week that passes, cases will increase by a factor of four,” he said.
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The Science Table dashboard shows that Omicron cases already represent more than 50% of COVID-19 infections in the province. The only way to avoid 10,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, he said, is for the province to reintroduce capacity limits and restrictions in high-risk settings.
“We need to pull the emergency brake,” said Dr. Juni.
The emergency brake will look different this time around. Lockdowns are avoidable, he said, but restrictions like capacity limits on sporting events, cinemas or any place where people will linger for long periods of time, with or without a mask.
“I get increasingly anxious if I don’t hear public health measures coming,” he said.
Shopping malls and retail spaces aren’t his priority. He said that transmission rates in these settings are low because people are moving through them quickly, not lingering, and most people are wearing their masks.
Shortly after Dr. Juni spoke with Daily Hive, the province of Ontario reintroduced capacity limits on major events in the province. Any venue with a typical capacity of 1,000 or more will be capped at 50% capacity. This does not extend to some of the places Dr. Juni is concerned about, such as movie theatres and concert venues.
The province also announced that they would be expanding booster dose eligibility to anyone aged 18 and older beginning on Monday, December 20. For Dr. Juni, that’s not enough.
“Booster shots only will start to help in January,” he said.
With the Omicron doubling every 2.2 days, there’s no way for the booster doses to roll out and become effective fast enough. Reducing social contacts should be the priority, he said.
In addition to avoiding indoor areas where people will remain for longer periods of time, people should be reducing their contacts by 50%, Dr. Juni said. Holiday gatherings, he added, shouldn’t be any larger than 10 people, and everyone should do a rapid test before the meeting.
He added that at this point, adults who are three months out from their second dose are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 than children are who just received their first dose.
With Omicron, there are still a lot of unknowns. Dr. Juni is focusing on specific unknowns that could cause concern. Unknowns include: whether or not rapid tests will detect the new variant. He expects they will, but the science hasn’t confirmed this yet. How many people will fall ill with this variant and require ventilation? That’s a major unknown that could put a hefty strain on the medical system.
It’s also not clear how effective vaccines will be against the variant in preventing spread, severe disease, hospitalization and death. The impact Omicron could have on long-term care homes is also unknown at this point. It’s also still too early to tell if Omicron could mean more patients with long-COVID.
In a world of unknowns, Dr. Juni suggests cutting back on social contacts, avoiding crowded areas where people may remove their masks or where people will be indoors for long periods. He said that Ontarians should ensure they have a proper mask, too.
“The minimum is a two-layer mask that fits well or a medical mask that fits well, meaning no gaps and the nose really well covered,” he said. “No gaps anywhere.”