Daily deaths are expected to double from 50 to 100 between mid-January and the end of February
Ontario hospitals will become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and daily deaths will double from 50 to 100 between mid-January and the end of February without further action, public health officials said on Tuesday.
At daily case growth of one per cent, officials project COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU) bed occupancy will hit 500. On some days, the rate of growth is seven per cent.
In a more “severe but realistic” scenario of three per cent, ICU occupancy could hit 1,000.
“More than half of our intensive care units in Ontario are full or only have on or two beds left,” said Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, during a data forecasting presentation at Queen’s Park on Tuesday.
There are more than 400 patients in intensive care units across the province and surgeries are being cancelled, he said.
He added that doctors will soon be faced with deciding which patients will receive care and which will not if there is not a “significant” drop in contacts between people.
“There will be choices about who will get the care they need and who will not,” said Brown. “There will be choices about who will receive oxygen and who will be transported to hospital.”
Brown said that at five per cent growth, Ontario will see over 20,000 cases a day by mid-February and seven per cent daily growth could lead to over 40,000 cases per day.
Deaths in long-term care homes have hit 1,100 deaths and are expected to surpass 1,800 deaths experienced in the first wave. Under the worst-case scenario, the government says Ontario will have 2,600 long-term care deaths by Valentine’s Day.
Brown said COVID-19 hospitalizations have gone up 72.2 per cent in the last four weeks and the number of patients in the ICU is up 61.2 per cent.
Brown said survey data shows two-thirds of Ontarians are following public health rules such as physical distancing and wearing masks, but a third of the population are still bucking the restrictions.
“If we do not follow these restrictions, COVID-19 will continue to aggressively spread before vaccines have the chance to protect us,” Brown said, adding that grey zone level restrictions have not succeeded in reducing mobility among people.
Brown said the UK variant known as B.1.1.7, which is 56 per cent more transmissible according to recent studies, could accelerate case growth further.
Currently, the number of Ontarians infected with COVID-19 doubles every 35-40 days. But if the new variants spreads in the community, the doubling time for cases could drop as low as 10 days, Brown explained.
Public health officials have made recommendations to cabinet on what measures the province should undertake next. Premier Doug Ford will announce the restrictions at 1 pm.
“Stopping the growth of the pandemic is not impossible,” Brown said, noting France has seen new cases drop by half, Germany is flattening the curve and life has started to return to normal parts of Australia.
Brown noted effective restrictions and other measures implemented in Australia, France and Germany included accessible testing, mandatory mask wearing outdoors, curfews, protections from evictions, income supports for essential workers and increased enforcement.
Last week, Ford said Ontarians should expect more extreme measures as COVID-19 continues to surge, but a nightly curfew, which Quebec just implemented, is reportedly off the table.
Ontario reported 2,903 new COVID-19 cases and 41 deaths on January 12.
“Locally, there are 837 new cases in Toronto, 545 in Peel, 249 in York Region and 246 in Niagara. Over 44,800 tests were completed yesterday,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Twitter.
Elliott also confirmed labs have detected eight new cases of the highly transmissible UK coronavirus variant known as B.1.1.7, bringing Ontario’s total variant cases to 14.
Though the number of new cases dipped below 3,000, the testing positivity rate remains high at 7.8 per cent.
There has been a big jump in hospitalizations in the past 24 hours.
There are 1,701 patients in hospital – an increase of 138 over the previous day – including 385 in intensive care units. Of those ICU patients, 262 are breathing with the help of a ventilator.
Another 41 people have died since yesterday, bringing the provincial death toll to 5,053. Twenty-three of today’s deaths were long-term care residents.
There are now 261 long-term care homes in the province experiencing an outbreak.
The seven-day average for new cases is now 3,523, which is up from 2,646 at the same time last week.
As of Monday evening at 8 pm, the province has administered 133,553 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.