Province expecting bump in COVID-19 hospitalizations in January
The latest figures are in from the Ontario Science Table, and according to the data, things look like they'll be getting worse before they get better when it comes to COVID-19.
The provincial body found COVID-19 cases are rising in most health units and the Delta variant appears to be the culprit.
It comes at a tough time for many rural health units like Algoma, Sudbury and Timiskaming, which continue to struggle in getting the numbers down.
Even without Omicron, ICUs across the province will likely grow by 250 to 400 beds in January, putting hospitals under strain.
"On one end what I hear from colleagues is that we're seeing extensive transmission in social networks of unvaccinated people, that's one challenge that we have," Dr. Peter Jüni told CTV News.
"The other part is that in some areas, people may just be unaccustomed to parts of the pandemic so they might be a bit less careful than perhaps people in the Greater Toronto area who have struggled so much."
Jüni said people might be complacent or dealing with COVID fatigue and are letting their guard down. It's a scary thought for him given where some of the numbers lie, particularly with Algoma and Timiskaming who top the list in terms of provincial growth with Delta.
"There are limitations required in places like Algoma, Sudbury and Temiskaming, all of those places need to look at what restrictions will be needed to get it under control," said Jüni.
In Sudbury, the district is currently under a work-from-home order, capacity limits at places like restaurants have been reinstated and those 12 years and older in organized sports must provide proof of vaccination.
"I don't think the modelling was a really great surprise in terms of the increases that we're expecting to see," said Sudbury's medical officer of health, Dr. Penny Sutcliffe.
"We knew with winter and going indoors that we would see more, of course in the north, the Sudbury area, Algoma, Timiskaming we're seeing even greater transmission so that is a concern."
Vaccinations are key
Sutcliffe said the modelling reinforces two things. First, that we as a community must keep our eye on vaccination, and second we must follow public health measures.
"This is absolutely Delta and how transmissible and infectious it is so what we're seeing in Sudbury are stubbornly high numbers," she said. "They're not exponentially increasing but they are staying high and gradually increasing."
The news has been alarming for Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health who gave props to the local health units earlier Tuesday.
Moore said they are working to help health units dealing with outbreaks as best they can at this moment.
"The modelling is disconcerting, we're seeing a continued rise in cases across Ontario and its impact on the healthcare system," he said. "To me as a public health care physician, all of the cases for the most part are preventable."
The good news is that Sutcliffe said they are on track to reach the provincial goal of having 30 to 50 per cent of kids between the ages of 5-11 vaccinated before year end.
Sutcliffe said she's not ruling out putting in additional restrictions under the Reopening Ontario Act if the numbers don't improve.
"Things like gathering limits, things like in addition to the vaccination and proof of vaccination that we have right now, might that be required in other places," she said.
Sutcliffe is supportive of the vaccine passport – which was to expire in January -- being kept in place.
"The proof of vaccination or vaccine passport has certainly increased the coverage rates and increased the protection of individuals who are in these settings where proof of vaccination is required," she said.
"Not only would I like to see it continue, but I would like to see it applied to additional areas where people gather to ensure they have that critical layer of protection. I think it's critically important."
One of the areas in the region that's seen a large spike as of late is Wikwemikong Unceded Territory, where Chief Duke Peltier has been urging community members to get vaccinated.
He's been helping to lead the charge through social media in keeping people up to date.
"We understand a lot of people may be feeling panicked or scared as the numbers are rising, but knowing these numbers helps assist our community members and stops the spread of COVID in our community," said Peltier in a Facebook update.
The Ontario Science Table added that the spread of the new Omicron variant will likely drive COVID-19 cases above current projections, so it's essential that we get the current spikes under control.
It also found vaccine effectiveness in Ontario remains high but experience in other countries suggests the province will have to boost immunity with third doses.
"We need to get things under control again and we're really not there right now," said Jüni.