COVID-19 cases could peak within 2-3 weeks in Ontario: health unit

The number of cases of COVID-19 in Ontario could peak in the coming weeks, according to the top doctor for London and Middlesex County.
Dr. Chris Mackie, the medical officer of health for Middlesex-London, said health officials are starting to see a trend where the number of new cases of COVID-19 is declining. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

Ontario could see the number of COVID-19 cases peak within the next two to three weeks, according to the top doctor for London and Middlesex County.

"We're still on the steep part of the curve where the number of cases is increasing every day," said Dr. Chris Mackie, the medical officer of health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit.

"But we're starting to see a trend where the acceleration of cases is declining."

Mackie is referring to the curve created with the daily reported number of cases of COVID-19.

The goal for health officials has been to "flatten the curve," which means slowing the spread of the virus so the healthcare system can handle existing cases.

In the London region, there have been 19 cases, with the biggest single-day increase on March 19 when it was announced that six people tested positive.

While some of the 19 cases are related to travel outside of the country, Mackie said it's likely community transmission is taking place in the region.

As of Wednesday evening, Ontario had 688 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Cross-border impact

As Canada sees more cases of COVID-19, Dr. Mackie is attributing the sharp rise to the United States.

"It was really about a month ago when we started to see dramatic increases in numbers in the U.S., and also, a significant underestimate of cases there," he said.

Mackie said that wasn't the case when health officials were first made aware of COVID-19 back in early January.

"At the time we were able, in almost every case, to identify where the case had come from, to put strong control measures around that individual and their close contacts," he said.

London reported its first case on Jan. 31 in a woman in her 20s who had travelled to Wuhan, China. She did not show any symptoms at first, but later admitted herself to University Hospital.

Western University confirmed the woman was one of its students, and noted she was not on campus since coming back from China. The woman has since made a full recovery.

Meanwhile, Mackie said he's concerned about the rhetoric coming from U.S. President Donald Trump on the COVID-19 outbreak. 

"The president's trying to minimize this problem," he said. "If people have been travelling in the U.S. listening to [him], they have to turn their minds away from that and recognize coronavirus is a risk."

On Wednesday, the federal government announced it would impose a mandatory quarantine for travellers returning to Canada. 

Under the Quarantine Act, all travellers returning to Canada—with the exception of what the federal government is calling "essential workers"—must self-isolate for 14 days.

Using cervical swabs

In the fight against COVID-19, health officials across Ontario have been trying out cervical swabs normally used to test for sexually-transmitted infections in women, according to Mackie.

"It's a huge addition to our arsenal against coronavirus," he said. "They're not quite as accurate, but they're still quite accurate."

The throat swabs used by health officials to test patients for COVID-19 resemble long thin Q-tips. (Nova Scotia Health Authority)

The cervical swabs can be used in place of throat swabs, which have been in limited supply as health officials around the world ramp up testing for COVID-19.

Due to this shortage, hospitals in the Middlesex-London region were prioritizing testing for patients with COVID-19 symptoms last week. One of London's assessment centres also didn't have any throat swabs to test patients.

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Mackie said at this point, swab supply is not the issue that it was.

"The goal is to make sure when our peak hits, probably around two to four weeks from now, that we still have resources available for the ones that need it the most."

About the Author

Alvin Yu

CBC staff

Alvin Yu splits his time along the 401 corridor as a reporter for CBC London, and associate producer for CBC Toronto and The National. Yu set his sights on journalism early - as a kid he would anchor the news in the shower, hoping one day to make it to the big screen.