COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations 'not increasing,' says Ontario's science table in new projections

Ontario's science advisory table's latest pandemic projections lay out a wide range of outcomes in the months to come, reflecting the 'fragile situation' as colder weather approaches.

Ontario also confirms 466 cases on Tuesday, with briefing from top doctor set for Wednesday

Paramedics with Ornge ambulance service load a patient outside Scarborough General Hospital, in north-east Toronto, earlier this year. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The province's science advisory table is laying out a cautiously optimistic snapshot of the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario — but says public health measures can only be eased if vaccination numbers go up. 

In its latest projections, the table says that the fourth wave has been effectively flattened thanks to public health measures, and that the test positivity rate in Ontario appears to be declining. 

"New cases, hospitalizations and ICU occupancy are not increasing," it wrote in a slide deck released online on Tuesday. 

"One of the big takeaways from today's numbers is, Ontario's done very well," said Dr. Fahad Razak, an internal medicine physician at St. Michael's Hospital and a member of the science advisory table. 

The province appears to agree with that assessment, with a Ministry of Health spokesperson writing in a statement that the modelling "further reinforces that as a result of Ontario's extremely cautious approach ... the province's public health and health-care indicators remain stable or are improving." 

Looking ahead to the winter months, the science table says there are a range of possible scenarios, reflecting the "fragile situation and high degree of instability as colder weather approaches with more time indoors." 

In the status quo scenario, in which there are no changes in behaviour or policy, cases would begin to increase in October and would surpass 1,500 new cases a day by November. 

If transmission is reduced by 25 per cent or more, cases would track steadily downwards, though they are not projected to hit zero in the next two months even in that best-case scenario. 

Razak says he believes Ontario can stick to the lower or middle scenario, as "long as we continue to hold on to our public health measures [and] continue to get people vaccinated." 

Hospitalization numbers stable

The projections sound a bright note again when it comes to hospitals, showing data that illustrates that Ontario's hospitalization and ICU admission rates have been stable for several weeks now — in stark contrast to other jurisdictions, such as Alberta and Saskatchewan. 

That doesn't mean the province's health system is out of the woods, though.

The science table's ICU occupancy projections range from under 200 beds to more than 300 beds by the end of October. At the peak of the third wave, close to 900 ICU beds were being used by COVID-19 patients in the province. 

It suggests that the best way to avoid the high end of ICU occupancy this coming winter is be cautious and to reduce contact with others, from 80 per cent of pre-pandemic contacts, to 70 per cent.

It also points out that children under the age of 11, who have yet to be vaccinated, account for an increasing number of cases — and says young people will likely take up an increasing portion of ICU beds. 

Dr. Fahad Razak
Dr. Fahad Razak estimates between 60,000 and 70,000 Ontarians either already have or will contract post-COVID condition, also known as long COVID. (CBC)

Post-COVID condition, or long COVID, could also put a strain on the health-care system, the projections say. 

At this point, one in 10 individuals with COVID-19 continue to have symptoms 12 weeks after infection, though the risk of developing long COVID decreases with vaccination. 

"This could be a really significant, dark legacy from the amount of people who were infected by this virus," said Razak. He estimates between 60,000 and 70,000 Ontarians either already have or will get long COVID. 

466 new cases reported Tuesday

Ontario also confirmed 466 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and 11 more deaths among those with the illness.

There were 819 new recoveries.

There are 315 people in hospital with COVID-19, and 180 of those were in intensive care. Of the 315 in hospital with a known vaccination status, 235 were unvaccinated.

Some 94 per cent of those in the ICU were either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, according to provincial data

Ontario's daily case counts have so far remained under 1,000 during the fourth wave, and the graph of Ontario's seven-day average roughly shows a plateau since the beginning of September.

That's well under the worst-case scenario in Ontario's previous modelling, which showed there could be some 4,000 daily cases by now.

Reality is more in line with the best-case scenario, in which cases would have steadily fallen since Sept. 1.

Ontario's chief medical officer, Dr. Kieran Moore, was expected to hold his weekly briefing today, but this has now been rescheduled to Wednesday, Sept. 29.

With files from CBC News