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The scientists advising Premier Doug Ford caution the province is "walking a narrow ledge"
The fourth wave has “flattened” and new cases are declining in Toronto, Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said on Tuesday.
In a modelling update, the science table said new infections, hospitalizations and ICU occupancy are not increasing but the province remains in a “fragile” situation. The group also released a range of projected scenarios for the next month.
“There is a wide range for case projections, reflecting the fragile situation and high degree of instability as colder weather approaches with more time indoors,” the document states.
The table notes that uncertainty in vaccine effectiveness against infection, the changing seasons and the fact that it’s “too early” to gauge the impact of the return to work and school means there is a “high degree of instability” in Ontario’s situation.
In order to keep public health indicators stable or in decline, the province must have high vaccination rates in the eligible population, keep public heath restrictions in place and ensure people reduce their contacts.
On September 2, the science table’s projections said Ontario needed to see the vaccination rate rise well above 85 per cent to avoid a fall lockdown. The data predicted a “substantial” fourth wave driven by the Delta variant, with daily cases hitting 9,000 per day in the worst-case scenario or around 500 in the best case.
With October 1 only a few days away, Ontario is leaning toward the best-case scenario while falling short of that vaccination target.
This morning, public health officials reported a single-day rise of 466 new COVID-19 cases and 11 more deaths. The seven-day moving average for new infections has been in a gradual decline, hitting 606 today compared with 710 this time last week.
To date, just over 81 per cent of the eligible population is fully immunized and 76 per cent have had at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. Overall, around 30 per cent of the total population is not vaccinated, including children under 12 who are not yet eligible.
We’ve just released new COVID modeling. We’ll take you through it in eight tweets. You can get the deck here: https://t.co/J2LXrWJo5s #COVID19ON— COVIDScienceOntario (@COVIDSciOntario) September 28, 2021
The modelling data released today shows a steady increase in new COVID-19 cases among children aged five to eleven.
It also notes that vaccination rates are rising slowly, and the positivity rate appears to be in decline despite an increase in testing rates since the start of the school year.
Of the province’s 34 public health units (PHUs), 19 have seen a rise in average weekly COVID-19 cases over the past 14 days. However, cases have decreased in Toronto, Peel, York, Durham and Hamilton.
“We’re walking a narrow ledge,” the table said in a series of tweets. “Positivity down but not consistently across ages & 19/34 PHUs have growing cases. We’re ok for now, but we have no wiggle room.
“We’re doing well for now. But if we want to control cases, hospitalizations & deaths we MUST increase vacc rates again & keep current public health measures to limit contacts until many more (& younger) Ontarians are vaxxed,” the group added.
The worst-case scenario showing a steep rise in cases would happen if restrictions are loosened, the group said on Twitter, adding “we don’t expect that right now.”
Projections for ICU occupancy vary from under 200 beds to over 300 beds by the end of October. “However, in Ontario hospital and ICU occupancy have been stable for several week,” the document reads.
ICU patients are expected to be younger as the pandemic continues.
The science advisors also said one in 10 people who catch COVID-19 will have “long COVID” – or symptoms that persist beyond 12 weeks. They warn that this could result in a significant burden on the health-care system.
Vaccines are effective at reducing the chance of getting COVID-19 by about 85 per cent and the chance of developing long COVID following a breakthrough infection by about 50 per cent, the science table said.
“Unvaccinated people have a seven-fold higher risk of symptomatic COVID-19 disease, a 25-fold higher risk of being in the hospital and 60-fold higher risk of being in the ICU compared to the fully vaccinated,” the document states.