Ontario's 6th COVID-19 wave may have crested, but impact of long weekend to be seen: modelling

Ontario's pandemic advisory table says wastewater surveillance suggests that community transmission may have peaked in its latest modelling Thursday, as the province reports 1,392 people in hospital with COVID-19 and 23 more deaths linked to the virus.

Ford says remaining mask mandates may be extended if recommended by top doctor

Healthcare workers walk near hospital row, on Toronto’s University Ave., on Apr. 7. Ontario reported 1,392 hospitalizations Thursday, marking a jump from Wednesday's 1,332 and 1,126 at this time last week. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

COVID-19 levels in Ontario may have have crested amid a sixth wave of the pandemic but the impact of long weekend gatherings remains to be seen, says the province's science advisory table.

In a new report Thursday, the group says it's uncertain whether the current plateau in wastewater indicators will remain, be followed by an increase after the holidays or if cases will decrease.

Dr. Peter Jüni, who heads the science table, cautioned it is still too early tell if cases have fully peaked, warning that things may change — especially with Easter weekend coming up. 

"We do not know in which direction this will go ... it's very challenging to make any predictions."

The latest modelling suggests Ontario is "well into" the sixth wave of the pandemic, driven by new, more transmissible BA.2 subvariant, waning immunity and the relaxation of public health measures. Ontario reported 1,392 people in hospital with COVID-19 on Thursday, and 23 more deaths linked to the virus. Hospital occupancy is likely to continue to rise for some time, the group says.

Jüni says the latest wastewater data suggests daily case counts for the virus may have reached a plateau at around 100,000 new daily infections.

Virus-related infections among health-care workers are as high as they were during the Omicron wave, and that, combined with rising hospitalization numbers, may impact health-care capacity.

Masking in indoor areas will continue to substantially reduce the risk of getting and spreading the virus, the group added. 

LISTEN | Dr. Peter Jüni on how the long weekend can impact cases, hospitalizations:

Dr. Peter Juni - Scientific Director of the Ontario COVID 19 Science Advisory Table - joins us to answer your questions about booster shots, anti-virals, and staying COVID safe over the long weekend.

The recommendation comes as Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters on Thursday he would be "more than happy" to extend remaining public health restrictions past the expected end date of April 27 if Ontario's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, recommends doing so.

  • You can read the science table's full report at the bottom of this story.

Asked about the science table's expected modelling at an unrelated news conference Thursday, Ford said he was hearing "positive" things about wastewater, but encouraged people to remain cautious.

"If you're having 15 people over, put your mask on ... it doesn't hurt," Ford said, ahead of the holiday weekend.

"We've been through this for two years now, it's common sense."

(Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table)

The group noted that high infection rates, along with potentially high hospitalization rates, will impact the province's ability to provide care for non-COVID-19 patients. However, the peak of this wave will likely be lower than the one seen in January amid an Omicron-driven surge.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott said the projections on hospital and ICU occupancy shows that Ontario can manage the current wave of infections without changing its public health response.

"This confirms what Dr. Moore reaffirmed earlier this week — Ontario has the tools and capacity to manage this wave of COVID-19 without imposing additional public health measures or reinstating a mask mandate," Alexandra Hilkene said in a statement.

"Ontarians should stay up to date with their vaccines, including boosters, and speak to a heath-care provider about what treatment options are available."

(Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table)

Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at University Health Network in Toronto, said it's "great to see" infection levels plateauing and even declining in most regions in the latest wastewater data projections.

"The pace of hospitalization appears to be plateauing as well," Bogoch said in a tweet Wednesday.

"It's still early and there's a lot of COVID out there, but we may be headed out of this wave."

1,392 hospitalizations, 23 more deaths reported

Meanwhile, today's hospitalizations mark a jump from Wednesday's 1,332 and 1,126 at this time last week.

Of the hospitalizations reported, there are 177 patients in intensive care. That's down from 182 a day earlier but up from 159 a week ago. Eighty-one patients are on ventilators due to the virus.

The province reported another 4,589 COVID-19 cases through limited PCR testing, with 23,046 tests completed the day before. 

​Thursday's test positivity rate sits at 18.1, up from Wednesday's 17.5 per cent.

The 23 additional deaths linked to the virus push Ontario's total death toll to 12,606.

The Ministry of Health noted it will not update COVID-19 data on its website on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Instead, the figures will be released each following day.

On Wednesday, select pharmacies across the province were able to begin distributing a pill to treat COVID-19 for those with a prescription, after the province announced it would expand distribution of Paxlovid earlier this week.

Ontario also expanded eligibility parameters for Paxlovid to anyone 70 and older, people 60 and older with fewer than three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, and people 18 and older with fewer than three vaccine doses and at least one risk factor such as a chronic medical condition.

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With files from Sara Jabakhanji and The Canadian Press


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