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More people will be hospitalized as public health restrictions lift: Ontario science table

Ontario's COVID-19 science table says based on an uptick of coronavirus detected in wastewater and the ending of most provincial public health measures next week, it's predicting more people will wind up in the hospital and in some cases intensive care. 

COVID-19 wastewater signal now increasing slightly but spring should bring improvements, new modelling shows

In new modelling released Thursday, the group of medical experts says hospital and ICU occupancy is projected to increase over the next few weeks but will not reach the numbers seen amid January's Omicron surge. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario's COVID-19 science table says based on an uptick of coronavirus detected in wastewater and the ending of most provincial public health measures next week, it's predicting more people will wind up in the hospital and in some cases intensive care. 

In new modelling released Thursday, the group of medical experts says hospital and ICU occupancy is projected to increase over the next few weeks but will be nowhere near the levels seen at the peak of the Omicron wave. The science table projects it will also be for a "limited period of time," though that depends on people's behaviour.

The projections indicate that there could be fewer than 900 hospitalization at a peak in early May — a far cry from the more than 4,000 people in hospital with COVID-19 in January. 

The new data was released less than a week before mask mandates are set to lift in most settings, although officials, including Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore, have encouraged Ontarians to keep wearing masks in high-risk settings. 

The modelling suggests the extent of a rise in transmission will depend on the number of close contacts an individual has — especially in indoor settings without masks, their vaccination status and the spread of BA.2 subvariant.

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

The group estimates that the current daily number of infections is between 15,000 to 20,000, based on wastewater data. 

(COVID-19 Science Advisory Table)

The science table said a complete vaccine series — which is currently two doses in children, three doses in adults, and four in long-term care residents and other eligible high-risk groups — is the best protection against contracting and spreading the virus.

"Older adults, immunocompromised, unvaccinated and marginalized individuals and groups are still susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19," the report noted.

The science table also says that administration of COVID-19 booster doses appears to have plateaued, but it notes that the third doses helped cut hospitalizations and ICU occupancy by about 30 per cent at the peak of the Omicron variant.

The science table has had to rely on metrics like wastewater surveillance, test positivity and mobility data to model for possible COVID-19 trends since the province limited PCR testing late last year.

A member of the science table says while there are anticipated increases in transmission across Ontario, the coming months still look promising.

"We're moving into the spring, we're moving into warmer weather, so our short-term outlook in terms of a potential surge is looking relatively good," assistant scientific director, Karen Born, told CBC Radio's Metro Morning Thursday morning.

"[But] as immunity wanes from vaccines or from prior infection, as we move more back into the fall ... we may again begin to see some of the surges that we've experienced over the past two years."

Born said it's anticipated there will be seasonal surges of the novel coronavirus, similar to what is seen with influenza, but experts hope that some of the more restrictive public health measures that were previously in place, such as school closures, will not have to be re-enforced.

The projections were released as the province prepares to drop all remaining masking rules and emergency orders on April 27.

Capacity limits and proof-of-vaccination rules have already been dropped in most spaces and masks will no longer be required in many settings as of Monday.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott says Ontario's public health trends are significantly better than the best case scenario laid out in the science table's previous modelling update, and hospitals can continue to manage what is projected in today's modelling.

Province reports 19 more deaths

Ontario is reporting 19 more deaths linked to COVID-19 Thursday as the number of patients in intensive care dipped below 200 for the first time this year. The 19 additional deaths reported by the province push the official death toll to 12,307. 

There are 644 people hospitalized with the virus, marking a slight dip from 649 the day before and 742 exactly one week ago.

About 47 per cent of those admitted to hospital were directly seeking treatment for COVID-19 symptoms, while 53 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive for the virus.

Of the hospitalizations reported, there are 199 patients in intensive care, which is down from the 204 reported Wednesday and 244 at this time last week. The last time the province saw its ICU count dip below 200 was on Dec. 21, 2021 when the Health Ministry reported 190.

​Roughly 75 per cent of those patients were admitted to ICU specifically for the virus, while the rest were admitted for other reasons but also tested positive for the virus. 

Another 2,398 new COVID-19 cases have also been logged, though the province's medical officer of health has warned the actual number of new cases is likely ten times higher. Here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the Ministry of Health's daily provincial update:

Tests completed: 14,648

Provincewide test positivity rate: 12.3 per cent

Active cases: 15,397

Patients in ICU requiring a ventilator to breathe: 97

Vaccinations: 31,929,540 doses have been administered to date. Currently, 92.7 per cent of Ontarians aged 12 and older have received at least one dose, while 90.8 per cent have received two doses.

About 89.9 per cent of Ontarians aged five or older have received at least one dose, while 86.2 per cent have received two doses.

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With files from The Canadian Press

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