Soaring COVID-19 case counts threaten to make Ontario’s second pandemic summer significantly more restricted than the last one, health officials say.
The latest epidemiological modelling released Friday suggests high case counts could persist through the summer, which would prevent the province from relaxing restrictions enough for people to gather and enjoy the warm weather.
“With the way things are, I’m not sure,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said at a news conference Thursday.
Ontario broke its daily case record three times this week, reporting a new high of more than 4,800 cases Friday. Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said Friday that the province could easily crack 5,000 cases per day over the weekend.
The modelling predicts Ontario could see 10,000 new cases per day by mid-May if restrictions stay the way they are and vaccination keeps its current pace. Brown and Williams said a longer Stay-at-Home order and more buy-in from individuals is needed to bring cases under control.
“Even if there are strong measures, if people don’t adhere, it’s weak,” Williams said.
But there is still a chance of having a more normal summer if vaccinations ramp up and people avoid travel, Brown said.
Right now Ontario is administering about 100,000 vaccine doses per day because of a supply bottleneck. The province has capacity to administer about five times more per day if supply were plentiful.
If Ontario could ramp up its immunizations to vaccinate 300,000 people per day, Brown said there is a good chance of seeing “very low” case numbers by the end of June.
“You could still see something of a summer,” he said. “But it really requires everyone to pull together. It really requires strong individual behaviour.”
- See also:
Cellphone mobility data suggests people are not staying home to the extent they were during the first wave of the pandemic. The current Stay-at-Home order has dampened movement, but not enough to bring cases down in time for summer, Brown said.
“Rate of growth is so significant it would be a hard thing to wait this out. We have not seen that precipitous drop in mobility and it’s a strong prediction of new cases,” Brown said.
He added it’s a “big bet” to stay with current restrictions.
He called for the Stay-at-Home order to be extended and for the province to whittle down its list of essential businesses that are permitted to stay open. Making paid sick leave easier to access, inspecting workplaces for COVID-19 compliance, and focusing vaccination on the most at-risk communities could also make a big difference, Brown said.
Ontario should stick with its strategy of getting vaccines to hotspot communities, since vaccinating there makes a bigger difference in terms of future caseloads, Brown said.
The province’s data suggests it takes an average of nearly 60 vaccines administered at random to avert one potential COVID-19 case. But when vaccination is focused on priority communities at risk for exposure, that decreases to 30 to 35 doses needed to avoid a future COVID-19 infection.
Although many Ontarians are looking forward to summer as a potential reprieve from pandemic-related closures, the latest modelling made it clear that a good summer isn’t necessarily guaranteed.
“Our progress is both frustrating and frightening,” Brown said.