Wastewater data shows early signs of 'resurgence' of COVID-19 viral load in Ontario, expert says

Wastewater surveillance data suggests that there are "early signs of a resurgence" of COVID-19 viral load across Ontario, says a member of the province's COVID-19 science advisory table.

News of upward trend comes as Toronto continues vaccination push in shopping and community centres

A sign outside Sheridan Mall advertises a COVID-19 vaccination clinic run by the Black Creek Community Health Centre. (Dale Manucdoc/CBC)

Wastewater surveillance data suggests that there are "early signs of a resurgence" of COVID-19 viral load across Ontario, says a member of the province's COVID-19 science advisory table. 

Dr. Peter Juni, scientific director of the science advisory table, says that means it's vital for residents to get third doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Juni is also a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Toronto. 

He said wastewater analysis shows that Ontario has reached the bottom of the trough, or valley, in terms of COVID-19 infections but there is a slight upward trend in the concentration of viral prevalence in wastewater across the province.

"What we are seeing basically is the early signs of a resurgence," Juni told CBC Toronto on Saturday.

"For quite some time, this happened outside of the GTA already for a little while. But now we're also seeing that the sleeping giant has woken up and that we start to see a bit of an upward trend also in the GTA," he said.

Juni said the upward trend is expected because of gradual reopening and the data is no reason for alarm but it is important for people to get their third doses. He said experts do not know by how much viral load will rise and he said the increase is not a function of waning immunity to the virus.

The risk of ending up in an hospital or an intensive care unit is reduced fivefold by a third dose, he noted. 

He said, however, there has been a "tremendous slowdown" in the rollout of third doses.

"Right now, for all of those out there who have had only two doses of a vaccine or less, please get vaccinated because you will contribute to the wall of immunity that we are building up through either vaccination or infection. And we need that if we continue to do the reopening," he said.

Ontario has had about three to four million COVID-19 infections due to the Omicron variant since the beginning of December, while roughly seven million people have received their third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, he said.

The situation isn't likely to result in the same health care challenges that Ontario had before, Juni said.

"The point really is we're opening relatively swiftly now and there's something we can do to continue to balance the situation out. And this is really just to get vaccinated. That's the part which I'm a bit worried about. There's a little bit of complacency out there now. People don't push for their third dose, and that's a mistake." 

Toronto runs 'Shop and Vax' campaign

His comments come as the City of Toronto, with its community partners, runs 19 COVID-19 vaccination clinics in shopping and community centres this weekend as part of its ongoing "Shop and Vax" campaign.

Its efforts are part of what it calls a "hyper-local, equity-focused strategy" to improve vaccination rates in select neighbourhoods and communities.

The Black Creek Community Health Centre is taking part in the city's Shop and Vax campaign this weekend. (Dale Manucdoc/CBC)

The campaign, which began on Thursday, continues until the end of Sunday. The city said in a news release that there have been three previous "Shop and Vax" campaigns since the fall of 2021.

The city said it is aiming to remove barriers to vaccination and bring vaccines to residents in areas with low vaccination rates and to people who are at high risk of infection. Its focus is on 30 neighbourhoods that have been identified by an analysis of local data.

"Meeting Torontonians where they work, live, play and shop has shown to be effective," Mayor John Tory said in the release.

"I urge those eligible who have yet to receive three doses to take advantage of the convenience of the mobile clinics this weekend to protect themselves and others."

Coun. Joe Cressy, chair of the Toronto Board of Health, said the city is trying to make vaccination as accessible as possible. "That means bringing vaccine clinics directly to where people are."

With files from Dale Manucdoc