Ontario is slowing the growth of COVID-19, the provincial government’s key public-health advisers said Thursday, releasing new projections suggesting the province is, for now, on track to avoid overwhelming its hospitals.
In a briefing for media on Thursday, Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown, dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, said Ontario is now seeing “much slower growth” and appears to be on a similar trajectory as the U.S. state of Michigan – rather than sharing the fate of the Australian state of Victoria, which was prompted to impose extremely strict lockdown measures as cases skyrocketed.
If current trends hold, Dr. Brown said, Ontario can expect a “steady state” of 800 to 1,200 cases a day. “Although cases are continuing to grow, that growth has slowed and we are starting to see a more gentle curve there."
Projections Dr. Brown had outlined more than a month ago showed Ontario staring down high growth. That prompted Ontario Premier Doug Ford to impose new gathering limits and shut down indoor dining in restaurants and bars in the coronavirus hot spots of Toronto, Peel Region, Ottawa and, a week later, York Region, for 28 days.
Those measures appear to be having an effect on the spread of the virus, Dr. Brown and the province’s other public-health advisers say.
While the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units is still rising, the improved trendline suggests Ontario hospitals should be able to handle the slower increase without turning away people seeking surgeries and other medical treatment, Dr. Brown said.
However, he cautioned that Ontario was by no means out of the woods, warning that the pace of COVID-19 infections can change quickly. Just one recent wedding in Vaughan, Ont., north of Toronto, has been blamed for 44 infections traced across several different local health units.
Plus, some local public-health units remain swamped and unable to properly trace and isolate the contacts of most new COVID-19 cases, widely considered a key tool in fighting the pandemic. According to numbers released Thursday, Toronto Public Health officials are still unable to say where almost two-thirds of the people testing positive are catching the virus.
Ontario recorded 935 new COVID-19 cases and 10 new deaths on Thursday, with Toronto Public Health alone recording 447 new infections. But these numbers are artificially inflated by about 100 cases in Toronto that actually date from previous days. The cases were only counted on Thursday, Toronto Public Health says, because of a data-entry delay caused by staff illnesses and the need to train staff on the province’s new IT system.
Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams said he still needs to see more numbers over the next week to determine if any restrictions could be lifted. The 28-day period for the restrictions in Toronto, Peel and Ottawa expires next weekend.
Asked earlier on Thursday about lifting those restrictions, the Premier could not say whether more businesses would be allowed to reopen or when that decision would be announced. But he said his government was working with local mayors and believes in a “surgical approach,” citing hard-hit Peel Region, where denser areas in Mississauga and Brampton are seeing COVID-19 cases but more rural Caledon is not.
“The good news is we’re seeing a little bit of a decline,” the Premier said. “But make no mistake about it: Please do not let our guard down.”
Ontario Heath Minister Christine Elliott said provincial health officials were speaking with Toronto Medical Officer of Health Eileen de Villa about other potential measures for Toronto.
Infectious-diseases doctor Andrew Morris, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto and medical director of the antimicrobial stewardship program at Sinai Health System and University Health Network, said he takes little comfort from the latest projections.
“I don’t share that cautious optimism,” Dr. Morris said, noting that almost every European country that hit similar infection rates as Ontario has now ended up with the virus later surging out of control.
Michael Warner, the medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, said it would be wrong to conclude from Thursday’s numbers that hot spot restrictions can be loosened, given the struggle of public-health units with contact tracing.
“I think it would kind of pull the chair out from under them, if you did that,” Dr. Warner said.
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