Nfld. & Labrador

New COVID-19 modelling for N.L. predicts increased hospitalizations, ICU occupancy

With health officials trying to get a handle on a growing outbreak of COVID-19 in central Newfoundland, a clinical scientist with Eastern Health predicts the fourth wave will cause increased hospitalizations and higher occupancy of intensive-care units.

With 16 new cases, province has 164 active cases

Dr. Proton Rahman, who heads the analytics team responsible for following COVID-19 data, says data suggests Newfoundland and Labrador will see increased hospitalizations and ICU occupancy amid the current spike of cases. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

With health officials trying to get a handle on a growing COVID-19 outbreak in central Newfoundland, an Eastern Health clinical scientist predicts the fourth wave will cause increased hospitalizations and higher occupancy of intensive-care units.

Dr. Proton Rahman, who heads the analytics team responsible for following COVID-19 data, delivered the latest projection models for Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday as the province's caseload continues to rise.

There is a key difference between the most recent outbreak and one in February in eastern Newfoundland, he said; the latter was driven by the alpha variant, while the new outbreak is related to the more contagious delta variant.

"The delta variant, in simple terms, is nastier. It's a beast in terms of infectivity as well as its severity," he said.

Rahman, a professor of medicine at Memorial University, said the original strain of COVID-19 projected people would transmit the virus to two or three other people. The same infection with delta variant can spread to six to eight others.

In the short term, Rahman said, case counts are expected to decline gradually because of public health interventions. ICU occupancy is projected to hit six to eight cases.

With the original strain, said Rahman, about 60 to 70 per cent of immunity would have been enough for the virus to slowly die off. With the delta variant, about 80 to 90 per cent immunity is needed.

"Even though 80 per cent of eligible vaccination rate is quite an achievement, we need to push further with more vaccines," he said.

Watch the full Sept. 29 update:

The surge in new cases over the last week occurred in people who are not vaccinated, with a significant portion being people who are older. Another COVID-19-related death was reported last week, marking the province's eighth since the pandemic began.

The current outbreak also includes children under 12 years old, who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

"The best way of protecting them is to ensure that we have a very minimal or low community transmission so they're not bringing the virus into school," said Rahman.

"So more of an emphasis that we really need to get together as a community, follow public health measures and get vaccinated."

The new provincial modelling hinges on no new clusters popping up, which would change its dynamics, he said.

The push is on to get more people in the province fully vaccinated as the delta variant sweeps across the country. 

Rahman's presentation said the probability of acquiring a community infection is significantly lower among those who are fully vaccinated.

For those who are unvaccinated, the probably of acquiring an infection from an infected traveller is about 20 per cent. That number drops to two per cent for those who are fully vaccinated. The probability for people with one dose of vaccine is around 12 per cent.

Wednesday's COVID-19 update

The province reported 16 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. One is in the Eastern Health region while 15 are in the Central Health region. All of Wednesday's cases are under investigation.

There are also four presumptive positive cases in central Newfoundland.

A graph demonstrates the difference between February's outbreak due to the alpha coronavirus variant and the most recent outbreak due to the delta variant. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

The province marked 11 more recoveries, 10 in central Newfoundland and one in western Newfoundland, leaving 164 active cases provincewide.

Seven people are now in hospital due to COVID-19, the highest number of hospitalizations since March 5. Two of those people are in critical care.

More than 1,550 tests have been completed since Tuesday's update.

The outbreak in the Central Health region remains under investigation, now with three clusters connected to it. There are 83 cases connected to the Baie Verte cluster, 52 connected to the Twillingate and New World Island cluster and a newly reported cluster in Bishop's Falls has 22 confirmed cases.

Changes to travel

The recent spike in cases prompted the province to tighten its travel restrictions Tuesday and suspend the freer travel associated with the Atlantic bubble.

Those changes mean any traveller who is partially vaccinated with one dose will now have to meet the same requirements as those who are unvaccinated. Travellers in that category are required to isolate themselves for two weeks when arriving in Newfoundland and Labrador, but can take a COVID-19 test on days 7 through 9 of their isolation.

Dr. Rosann Seviour, Newfoundland and Labrador's acting chief medical officer of health, announced further changes to travelling on Wednesday, for children under 12.

Children entering the province must limit contact with others by staying home as much as possible, avoiding vulnerable people, long-term care and personal-care homes for two weeks after arrival. They cannot attend day care, camps or sporting events, and must avoid large crowded settings.

After Day 7, children between five and 11 years old can get a COVID-19 test and are permitted to attend school. However, they still can't attend before- or after-school programs until the two weeks are over.

Children under five are not required to get a test as long as their parents have a COVID-19 test on Day 7 or later. They still have to abide by the limitations until their parents receive a negative test.

The changes come into effect as of 12:01 a.m. Thursday. 

Premier Andrew Furey also said Tuesday the province is speaking with unions with respect to making vaccines mandatory for public employees.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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