Ontario expecting another wave of COVID-19, top doctor recommends 'layers of protection'
Province expanding eligibility for bivalent booster to kids 5-11
Ontario is expected to face another wave of COVID-19 as early as January, the province's top doctor said as he recommended "layers of protection" to help fend off a surge of infections of both that virus and the flu with the holidays around the corner.
"This virus is not going away," Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore told CBC Toronto on Thursday.
"We're anticipating in early January to start to see sadly yet another rise in COVID cases and it could be accentuated through the holidays."
Wastewater data shows Ontario's COVID-19 infections are on an upward climb after a steady decline earlier from mid-October to late November.
The number of deaths associated with the virus is also climbing once again, with 110 reported for the week ending Dec. 7, up from 93 the week before and 89 the week before that.
Meanwhile, the province confirmed to CBC Toronto on Wednesday that it has changed its reporting strategy. Until recently, the province released its COVID-19 data every Thursday for the seven days prior.
Now, Thursday reporting will contain data only up to Tuesday. This week, for example, the data stops at Dec. 13, whereas it would previously contain information up to Dec. 15.
Moore cautioned that immunization from COVID vaccines fades after about six months, and encouraged anyone who has not received a booster dose to get one, as well as their flu shot. The province still has about 900,000 doses available, he said.
'No question flu will lead to deaths,' says Moore
"There is no question that we will have deaths in Ontario from influenza, sadly, as we have occur annually and a portion of those deaths will be in children," Moore said, promising that the province will release data on flu deaths in children when it is finalized.
CBC Toronto spoke with Moore following his earlier appearance on CBC Radio's Metro Morning, in which Moore expressed disappointment with the lack of masking on the TTC. Moore himself was seen without a face mask at a recent event hosted by the magazine Toronto Life.
Asked about that discrepancy, Moore replied that he "absolutely" wears a mask in public spaces like the mall, on public transit, and in box stores. But given the level of ventilation, number of people present and because there was food and drink, he said he felt comfortable removing his mask at that particular event.
That kind of calculation is one all Ontarians will have make as they head into the holidays with more social gatherings, he said.
"As we get together for the holidays, everyone will have do their own risk assessment.... We're asking people to be reasonable, to be prudent."
Province expands bivalent booster eligibility
Those comments come as Ontario is expanding eligibility for the COVID-19 bivalent booster vaccine to children aged five to 11, as the province's chief medical officer of health says he is expecting another surge in cases following the holiday season.
"We're absolutely wanting parents to come forward and protect their children through immunization," Moore told Metro Morning on Thursday.
Families with kids in that age group will be eligible to book bivalent doses starting Dec. 21, the province said in a news release. The announcement comes after Health Canada authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent booster for kids age five to 11 last week.
Public Health Ontario data shows 40 per cent of kids aged five to 11 have completed a primary series of a COVID-19 vaccine. The province is recommending kids five and older get a booster if it's been six months since their last dose, or three months for those at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
'Real crisis' in pediatric hospitals
Moore said that boosters for more children will help to alleviate pressure on pediatric hospitals, which continue to face strain under high demand for treatment of various respiratory illnesses, including COVID, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) — though there are signs that demand is easing.
Matt Anderson, president and CEO of Ontario Health, told Metro Morning Thursday that front-line health professionals are telling him there is a "real crisis" happening in pediatric hospitals and they are struggling to meet patient needs.
"That is by far where we are seeing the greatest pressure right now," he said.
LISTEN | Ontario health officials discuss the crisis in hospitals:
Moore noted that there has recently been a decrease in patients of all ages seeking hospital care for symptoms of COVID-19, but he is concerned that could change in the new year if too many people fall behind on their immunizations.
The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 peaked in October with about 2,000 patients, he said. Now there are about 1,100 to 1,200 people in hospital with the disease over recent days.
Moore said that the number of Ontarians getting COVID boosters has declined in recent weeks, from a peak of roughly 30,000 per day earlier in the fall to about 16,000 per day currently.
More than 50 per cent of those aged 70 and older have had a bivalent booster, he said, while about 18.5 per cent — or roughly one in five — of all eligible Ontarians have had a shot.
"We can't let that wall of immunity that we built in Ontario erode at all given that the virus continues to want to change," he said.
"We need to stay protected."
With files from The Canadian Press