Community transmission of COVID-19 may have peaked, but new modeling from Ontario’s science table warns that hospital occupancy is “expected to continue to climb for some time” and may approach levels seen during the pandemic’s fifth wave this winter.
According to updated forecasts issued by the group of scientists and epidemiologists advising the Ford government on its pandemic response, the number of Ontarians hospitalized with COVID-19 might exceed 3,000 by May in the most likely scenario.
According to the experts, under a gloomier scenario, more than 4,000 individuals could be hospitalized with COVID-19 by May, nearing the peak of 4,183 persons hospitalized with COVID-19 in mid-January.
The table is also projecting that the number of COVID patients taking up ICU beds will rise but it says that the ultimate peak will likely be lower than during the Omicron-fueled fifth wave of the pandemic.
The most likely scenario would see about 500 patients in intensive care with COVID by May, according to the table. The worst case scenario, meanwhile, would see more than 600 people in the ICU with COVID-19 by May. In January, the number of people in the ICU peaked at 626.
“We really have a lot of uncertainty here and we’re not completely sure how this will play out,” Dr. Peter Jüni, the scientific director of the table, told CP24 on Thursday afternoon. “We are relatively confident that the hospital and ICU occupancy should be likely be lower this time than last time and that helps. But there’s a caveat. The caveat is you have again a lot of healthcare workers knocked out (by infection), about the same level as last time during the Omicron wave and that will increase the strain for the healthcare system.”
The latest projections paint a much more alarming picture than modelling released by the table last month, which estimated that there would be about 800 COVID patients in hospital by May as well as another 300 in the ICU.
That, however, was before Ontario lifted the mask mandate in most settings, along with a number of other public health restrictions.
It also pre-dated the more infectious BA.2 subvariant becoming dominant in Ontario, which the science table now estimates occurred sometime around March 10.
In a presentation accompanying the latest figures, the science table said that masking in indoor areas “will substantially reduce the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 as will improvements to ventilation.”
The table does not explicitly call for the return of an outright mask mandate but Jüni told CP24 that he would like to see masks required in schools given the rise in transmission.
“I would personally think most of my colleagues or all of my colleagues at the science table would probably welcome a mask mandate in school indeed,” Jüni said. “Why? We are still in a really challenging situation. We have probably about five per cent of the population right now infected by COVID and this is, of course, also reflected in schools. It probably wouldn’t hurt to go beyond strong recommendations there. But I know that there are also political considerations and that is beyond my role.”