TORONTO — Ontario could see more than 9,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day by the end of the year, according to the worst-case scenario revealed in new modelling.
The provincial government released the updated projections during a news conference held on Thursday afternoon.
The modelling suggests that if COVID-19 cases grow at a rate of three per cent, Ontario will record more than 4,000 cases per day by Dec. 30.
But, if cases grow at a rate of five per cent, Ontario could see more than 9,000 cases per day by that date.
Cases of the novel coronavirus in Ontario have been growing at a much lower rate of 0.45 per cent over the past 14 days.
“We are not really turning a corner yet,” Dr. Adalsteinn Brown of the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health warned while speaking to the projections on Thrusday. “We may see flattening, but really we are in a very fragile, precarious position.”
Brown said that while the province is not modelling a decrease in cases, they are seeing a flat-line trend right now, but cautioned that “with a sufficient number of outbreaks, you could see much higher rates of growth, even than the (five per cent growth rate) that we’ve noted here and as we’ve seen in some other jurisdictions.”
Speaking after Brown, Ontario’s Chief Coroner Dr. Dirk Huyer said 48 COVID-19 outbreaks were reported on Thursday, the highest number he can recall throughout the entire pandemic.
“That’s certainly concerning,” he said. “We did see an increase today in workplaces and also in public-facing environments and still see a continued number of outbreaks in long-term care homes and other vulnerable sectors, as well as schools.”
According to Huyer, there were 212 outbreaks reported in the last seven-day period and 748 in the last 30-day period.
“Early in the days when I would present here, we would talk about the majority of the outbreaks being in the settings that had the highest case numbers, so Toronto, Peel, at that time Ottawa and York, with occasional outbreaks in some of the outer settings,” he said. ” We now have lists of outbreaks in the outer settings and we continue to see that number grow.”
The modelling also highlighted that as of this week, 70 per cent of new cases in Toronto reported no epidemiological link. That number is 43 per cent higher than the next public health regions displayed on the graph, Ottawa and Peel, which are both reporting 27 per cent of weekly cases not having an epidemiological link.
“In a situation like this where we’ve got very high case counts, we would expect to see a lot of community transmission, which raises those numbers up,” Brown said.
“Hopefully, as cases decline this proportion will improve substantially so we know the source of cases and in that period following the second wave we are able to make sure we stay on top of outbreaks.”
More than 200 ICU patients in December ‘under any scenario’
The projections also suggest that more than 200 COVID-19 patients will be admitted to Ontario intensive care units (ICU) in December “under any scenario.”
Under the five per cent growth scenario, the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs could climb above 300 by mid-December.
According to the provincial government, when there are less than 150 COVID-19 patients being treated in the ICU, the province can “maintain non-COVID capacity and all scheduled surgeries.”
Once that number rises above 150, it becomes harder to support non-COVID-19 needs, the government said. Once it exceeds 350 people, it becomes “impossible” to handle.
There are currently 151 COVID-19 patients in Ontario ICUs, according to the province’s data.
On Thursday, Brown said COVID-19 hospitalizations in Ontario went up more than 63.2 per cent over the last four weeks.
“Even with cases flattening, hospitalizations are going to continue to grow for a while because of the progression of the disease and the time it takes to go from infection, to symptoms, to the require of hospitalization and ICU use will lag even further behind that,” he said.
Deaths at long-term care homes continue to increase
Despite cases flattening and even starting to decline at Ontario’s long-term care homes, deaths among residents are continuing to increase, Brown said on Thursday.
There are currently 104 homes in outbreak in the province and 964 confirmed COVID-19 cases at those homes – 524 residents and 453 staff.
Sixty-four residents have died over the last seven days, Brown said. And of the province’s 3,575 deaths linked to the disease, 2,270 were residents of long-term care homes.
The sector was the hardest hit by the first wave of the novel coronavirus and required support from the military.
‘Can’t let our guard down,’ premier says
The new projections for the spread of the disease come after Toronto and Peel – two of the biggest COVID-19 hot spots in the province – went into lockdown earlier this week.
The province released the last set of projections two weeks ago. That modelling showed that Ontario could see as many as 6,500 new COVID-19 cases per day by mid-December if additional health measures were not put into effect.
That projection was also based off a five per cent growth rate. At the time, cases in Ontario had been growing at a rate of 3.9 per cent over the prior two weeks.
The following day after those projections were released, Premier Doug Ford announced he would lower thresholds for imposing stricter measures under the province’s colour-coded COVID-19 framework.
Furthermore, on Wednesday, Ford detailed the province’s guidelines for the upcoming holiday season. He urged residents to refrain from hosting large parties and instead only celebrate with those you live with or with one additional household if you live alone.
Speaking at a news conference held just before Thursday’s modelling was released, Ford said “we can’t let our guard down for a second.”
“I’m concerned. I’m still concerned, concerned that the numbers are going to continue rising,” he said. “We have to be vigilant and we have to really focus on the areas that we see the outbreaks – be it in Peel, in Toronto in York, we have to knuckle down and get through this. It’s absolutely critical.”
On Thursday, 1,478 new cases of the novel coronavirus were confirmed along with 21 more deaths.
The total number of lab-confirmed cases in Ontario is now 109,361, including 3,575 deaths and 92,915 recoveries.
The current seven-day average for the number of cases reported is 1,427, compared to 1,370 one week ago.
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