6-week stay-at-home order, strict new measures needed to control 3rd COVID-19 wave in Ontario, experts say

Ontario needs at least a six-week stay-at-home order with an average of 100,000 vaccinations per day to get the third wave of COVID-19 now gripping the province under control, a panel of experts said Friday.

“Without stronger system-level measures and immediate support for essential workers and high-risk communities, high case rates will persist through the summer,” Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table said in its latest update, echoing recommendations it has been making for months.

Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the group of experts that advises the government on its pandemic, presented the table’s latest modelling at a news conference this afternoon. He was joined by Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health.

You can read the full presentation at the bottom of this story.

Cases of the illness are rising in most of the province’s 34 public health units, and the province-wide test positivity rate has climbed to 7.9 per cent. That figure is higher than 10 per cent in Toronto, Peel and York regions.

The pace of vaccinations is simply not enough on its own to contain increasing transmissions of the virus, Brown said. Even with stricter public health measures in place and about 300,000 vaccinations per day (Ontario is currently averaging about 100,000) it could take until the end of June to see cases counts drastically reduced, Brown said.

“It really requires everyone to pull together,” Brown said.

The sobering forecast comes as Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to announce new restrictions in the province, with daily COVID-19 case counts and admissions to hospitals and intensive care at new pandemic peaks.

“Notice that our hospitals can no longer function normally. They are bursting at the seams, we are setting up field hospitals,” said Brown, alluding to a hospital in the parking lot at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto.

“Our childrens’ hospitals are admitting adults. This has never happened in Ontario before. It’s never happened in Canada before.”

Many intensive care units in particularly hard-hit areas of the province were never able to fully recover from the second wave of the pandemic that peaked in January, Brown added. They are now approaching a breaking point.

Under any scenario, ICU admissions are expected to top 800 in the coming weeks. With only the current measures in place, admissions will still likely exceed 1,000, Brown said. Continued impacts for critical care units are now “baked in” for at least two weeks given growth in overall cases.

The “longer and stronger” public health measures remain in place, Brown said, the more it will drive down admissions to intensive care.

Part of the problem, he explained, is that Ontario began easing public health measures during the brief lull between the second and third waves of the pandemic. During this time, the prevalence of variants of concern — which are more transmissible and increase the risk of both hospitalization and death — exploded.

The science table reported as early as late January that if the spread of variants was not brought under control, Ontario was facing a potential “disaster” scenario. Revised projections published in March built on those concerns, forecasting up to 8,000 cases per day by the end of April if action was not taken.

“This is what we were expecting moving forward if we relaxed public health measures” coming off the second wave, Brown said.

Ford and his government imposed a month-long stay-at-home order on April 8, one week after moving the whole province into a “shutdown.”

Brown described the current suite of measures as “moderate,” but said that without those steps, Ontario could have been on track to see more than 30,000 new infections per day by the end of May. 

More to come.

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