Toronto

Ontario facing 'tidal wave' of over 100,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, science table head estimates

Wastewater data suggests Ontario is seeing an estimated 100,000 to 120,000 cases of COVID-19 daily, according to the head of the province's scientific advisory table.

Province at same point it was when Omicron wave peaked in January, Dr. Peter Jüni says

Dr. Peter Jüni, scientific director of Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table, says the viral load in Ontario's wastewater is around the level it was when the fifth wave fueled by the Omicron variant reached a peak in early January.  (CBC)

Ontario is seeing an estimated 100,000 to 120,000 new cases of COVID-19 daily, according to the head of the province's science advisory table.

Dr. Peter Jüni said on Wednesday that estimate is based on the amount of the novel coronavirus seen in Ontario's wastewater — a measure data experts began relying on to get a sense of the pathogen's spread when the province started restricting PCR testing last year. He said the current spike looks very much like the fifth wave fuelled by the Omicron variant when it reached a peak in early January. 

"We're at the same level again that we were then," Jüni told CBC News Network. 

The provincial government lifted most COVID-19 public health measures, including mask mandates in indoor settings, in March, but Jüni said Ontarians should start wearing masks again as they're the quickest way to bring cases down.

"Of course, we're in a different position. I agree, we shouldn't panic but we should mask up. That's the point here," he said.

WATCH | Ontario seeing 100,000-120,000 daily new COVID-19 cases, expert estimates:

Don't panic but wear a mask, Ontario COVID-19 expert says

3 months ago
Duration 5:51
Wastewater testing suggests Ontario is experiencing as many new COVID-19 infections as it did during the peak of Omicron, says Dr. Peter Jüni, the head of the province's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

Jüni said the numbers are concerning — "we create the tidal wave again" — but he added Ontario might not see the same number of hospitalizations as it did in January due to mass vaccination. 

"The point here really is, we've built up a wall of immunity, thanks to third doses and thanks to a lot of people who got infected. This will help us," he said.

Juni said the restricted eligibility for testing means it's unclear how long this wave will last, because it's not known how many people have been infected so far and have an extra bit of immunity.

He said getting a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine is even more effective at boosting immunity than catching the virus, as evidence suggests the current variant can be caught multiple times.

'No cause for panic,' health minister says

An estimated 4.5 to five million people in Ontario have been infected with COVID-19 since Dec. 1, 2021, Jüni said.

"It's basically us lifting the restrictions and now just moving too much toward normality," Jüni said.

"We just need a little bit longer right now."

But earlier on Wednesday, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province was expecting a spike in infections as the province reopened.

Vaccines and antiviral drugs should help the province weather the latest surge, she said.

"This is something that we are sure we're going to be able to get through. There is no cause for panic."

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says: 'This is something that we are sure we're going to be able to get through. There is no cause for panic.' (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Dr. Kashif Pirzada, an emergency room physician in Toronto, said hospitals are seeing a steady increase in admissions of COVID-19 patients, especially the elderly.

"It's too early to say, but if it's following anything like the last wave, we're going to hit capacity in the next couple of weeks," Pirzada said.

He said hospital workers are already burned out.

"Already, the wait times are crazy. We're short staffed. People are getting sick every day. At the hospitals I work [in], they're asking for people to come in early, leave late and cover for sick shifts," he said.

Pirzada said the government needs to make a real plan to provide guidance on what to do at home, work and school as the pandemic continues. He recommended the return of mask mandates, improvements in ventilation of indoor spaces and twice weekly rapid testing at schools and workplaces.

"These are messages that I wish that our medical leadership would get out there, but it's not really happening right now," he said. 

"Dropping precautions when a wave was starting was a really bad move and it's going to cost us all, unfortunately."

No sign of medical officer of health

As metrics around the virus rise, the province's chief medical officer of health has been absent from the public eye. Dr. Kieran Moore held his last public briefing on March 9 and has turned down interview requests since then. At the time of that press conference last month, 751 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, compared to 1,126 on Thursday.

"Dr. Moore has chosen not to appear in regular conferences because, in his words, we have to learn to live with COVID as it is now," Elliott said.

"We can't continue to have to need weekly updates when we know that we are seeing an increase but the increase is manageable."

But Liberal House leader John Fraser said Ontarians have relied on the top doctor's briefings to determine their risk of catching COVID-19.

"Now we're facing what looks like it's going to be the biggest wave and there's a vacuum, a vacuum of leadership. The chief medical officer of health is nowhere to be found," he told the legislature.

With files from Lorenda Reddekopp and The Canadian Press

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