Premier Doug Ford describes the current COVID-19 situation in Ontario as “a small spike,” but there are many signs that the sixth wave of the pandemic is about to get much bigger than that.
By all available metrics – hospitalizations, officially confirmed cases and presence of the virus in sewage – the latest wave of COVID-19 infections in Ontario is showing exponential growth.
Estimates of the number of viruses in sewage suggest that around 100,000 people are now infected daily in Ontario, according to the COVID-19 Science Advisory Table. That’s a faster infection rate than at any other time during the pandemic.
All of this leaves no doubt that Ontario is in a sixth wave, even though the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, has yet to officially declare it. Moore has not held a press conference or done any media interviews for four weeks, despite repeated requests from various outlets, including CBC News.
Yet many unknowns remain about the sixth wave in Ontario: what kind of impact is it having? How much will he grow? What should the province do about it?
The Ford government’s approach to this latter issue at this time is to stay the course after lifting most public COVID-19 measures last month.
“There is no need to panic,” Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Wednesday when asked about the COVID-19 situation at an independent press conference. “It’s something we’re sure we can get through.”
At the same news conference, Ford was asked if he was downplaying the significance of the current surge for political reasons, with Ontario’s election campaign set to begin in four weeks.
“I’m not minimizing,” Ford replied. “But let’s put that in perspective. We still have one of the lowest per capita hospitalizations in the country.”
Ford and Elliott repeatedly aim to reassure Ontarians that hospital bed capacity, high vaccination rates and the availability of antiviral drugs mean the province’s healthcare system can handle the current surge. .
“This pandemic is not over”
It’s a message that doesn’t sit well with those who believe ‘hospitals aren’t overwhelmed’ is a low bar for success, including Dr. Amit Arya, a palliative care physician who works in hospitals and homes long-term care in Toronto. region
“Just ignoring COVID-19 and pretending it doesn’t exist and abandoning all public health protections is the wrong message at this point,” Arya said in an interview.
“A lot of people, including even some of my friends and family, believe this message and kind of interpret it as saying the pandemic is over,” Arya added.
Anthony Dale, president of the Ontario Hospital Association, says Elliott’s plea not to panic is appropriate, but adds a caveat.
“Panic doesn’t solve anything. But saying, ‘Don’t panic,’ doesn’t mean either, ‘Look the other way. There is absolutely nothing to see here, everything is fine,’” Dale said in an interview. “Our number one message is that this pandemic is not over.”
The province reported 1,074 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 on Wednesday, a 36% jump in one week. Beyond that current figure, what worries many health experts is the number of patients to come, especially given the record number of cases.
“We are going in the wrong direction,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said in an interview on Wednesday.
“There is widespread COVID in the community and that makes it easier [for the virus] to find vulnerable people and at-risk populations, which means we’ll see more hospitalizations,” Bogoch said.
Throughout the pandemic, experts have tried to make it clear that hospitalization statistics are a so-called “lagging indicator” of the rate of COVID-19 cases: the severity of the trend only becomes apparent a few weeks after infections appear.
Some of the 100,000 people infected every day will end up in hospital later this month, and some of them will die. Meanwhile, many hospitals are beginning to face staffing issues as healthcare workers call in sick because they or a family member have contracted COVID-19.
Doctors question Ford’s insistence that the province can easily handle a surge in patients by adding more beds.
“Approach with your head in the sand”
“Healthcare workers are contracting COVID-19 at a rate not seen in Ontario in this pandemic. We cannot staff additional beds in hospitals,” said Dr Lisa Salamon, an emergency physician in Scarborough. tweeted this week. She added that many cases involve health workers infected by their children, bringing the new coronavirus home from school.
Dr. David Fisman, a physician and epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, says the province is taking a “head in the sand approach” to the current wave and “de facto encouraging people to spread disease” by doing this.
“It’s particularly concerning because these waves are hitting young children in ways out of proportion to what happened earlier in the pandemic,” Fisman said in an email to CBC News.
The government’s decision to end mandatory mask rules in mid-March in most indoor venues, including schools, came with a change in messaging. Moore, Ford and Elliot began to describe masking as a personal choice for people at high risk.
It trashes the idea that people should wear masks in indoor public places to avoid spreading COVID-19 to others.
“We should all wear masks”
Ford and Elliott have repeatedly said no to reimposing the mask mandate, saying Dr Moore does not recommend it. In contrast, Quebec extended its mandatory masking rules this week until the end of April.
“We should all start wearing masks again,” said Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara Region Medical Officer of Health. “It’s definitely going to be a lot harder to get people back into masking once they’ve stopped.”
Given all of this, how bad will the sixth wave be?
“I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that this wave will necessarily be less bad than the previous wave,” Hirji said. “It’s not a guaranteed outcome, and I don’t think we should bet on it.”
Dr. Kashif Pirzada, an emergency physician in Toronto, said he hopes the protection offered by vaccines and the arrival of better weather will work in Ontario’s favor.
“Fingers crossed it’ll be fine,” Pirzada said in an interview.
“But overall, abandoning precautions right at the start of a wave was a very bad decision and it’s going to cost us all, unfortunately.”