TORONTO — Ontario health officials have said that without a “significant reductions in contacts,” the health system will be overwhelmed amid a rising number of COVID-19 infections and mortality will exceed the first wave totals, even with their vaccination efforts.
In modelling data released late Tuesday morning, officials said they expect the daily COVID-19 mortality rate in the province to double from 50 deaths per day to about 100 deaths per day between mid-January and the end of February.
The predictions represent an increase from the previous data released in December, which suggested that under the “maximum likelihood estimate” Ontario would see a little under 50 deaths daily by next month.
Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, Epidemiologist Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the province’s COVID-19 science table, said that that the new data indicates the novel coronavirus could be in competition for the single greatest cause of mortality on a daily basis.”
“Potentially larger than cancer and heart disease, it’s already larger than virtually every other cause that we look at,” he said.
“To give you an idea of this in relationship to other causes of mortality, this would really put COVID-19 into competition for being the single greatest cause of mortality on a daily basis.”
Officials also predicted that if the rate of infections grows by one per cent, Ontario hospital intensive care units could see occupancy related to the novel coronavirus jump to 500.
If the rate of infections grows to three per cent, officials say ICU COVID-19 occupancy could soar over 1,000. The government said this could occur in “more severe, but realistic scenarios.”
Ontario is currently reporting a COVID-19 infection growth rate of 1.2.
The government has previously said that once the number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU exceeds 300, it becomes nearly impossible for health-care workers to provide care not related to the disease.
As it stands now, there are more than 400 people being treated in the ICU for COVID-19. Officials said Tuesday that one quarter of hospitals in Ontario have no ICU beds free, while another quarter only have a handful of beds available.
Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have increased by 72.1 per cent over the last four weeks, officials said, while the number of patients in the ICU has increased by 61.2 per cent.
“I want to be clear, the impact on our health system is already greater today than we’ve ever seen in Ontario’s History,” Brown said.
“If we look at just one community as an example, Scarborough has already had many times more emergency department visits and hospital admissions, and in an entire bad flu season, and we’re now only a few months into this second wave.”
Brown added that as the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care grows, doctors will have to make choices “no family ever wants to hear.”
“There will be choices about who will get the are they need and who will not. They will be choices about who receives oxygen or is transported to hospital. Decisions we are already seeing being forced on ambulance crews in California where the virus has spread widely,” he said.
“The choices will affect all patients needing intensive care, whether it is patients who have a heart attack, who have been in a motor-vehicle accident, who have COVID-19 or any other cause. This also means care for thousands of patients waiting for surgery will be delayed or cancelled while we add more patients to this wait list.”
“Simply put, delays kill.”
In long-term care homes, the situation appears to be just as dire.
Since Jan. 1, 198 long-term care home residents have died of COVID-19, as well as two staff members.
Under the government’s worst-case scenario, the province could see the total long-term care death toll in the second wave surpass 2,500 by February. There were about 1,815 deaths in long-term care homes reported in the first wave of the pandemic, officials said.
According to the modelling data, 252 long-term care homes—40 per cent of all facilities in Ontario—are experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19.
Thirty-seven of those homes are located in “priority vaccination areas,” which includes Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Windsor-Essex. These four areas were the first regions in the province to be placed under a lockdown order in the second wave of the pandemic.
Multiple variants of COVID-19 being seen in Ontario
As of Tuesday, Ontario officials say there are now 14 cases of a COVID-19 variant that was first discovered in the U.K. in the province.
The variant, officially known as Novel-SARS-CoV-2 (B117), appears to be much more easily transmittable, although officials say there is no increase in severity among those who contract it.
According to the modelling, if the COVID-19 variant spreads in the community, the number of infections in Ontario could start doubling every 10 days by March.
Officials say the COVID-19 vaccine is likely still effective against the variant.
The modelling also forecasted that if the number of infections continues at a growth rate of one per cent, the province could see more than 5,000 COVID-19 cases daily by the end of February. That number increases to about 10,000 cases if the infection rate is three per cent.
Officials said that in the worst-case scenario, with a growth rate of between five and seven per cent, that number could jump to between 20,000 and 40,000 cases daily.
The modelling was released just a few hours before the premier is expected to announce new measures in an effort to curb the spread of the disease.
Multiple sources confirmed to CTV News that invoking a state of emergency is under active consideration.
This is a developing news story. More to come.
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