“This is not only a more contagious disease … it’s also a more dangerous disease. In the first and second waves when we were dealing with the earlier variants (that) had been first identified in China, for every 10 patients we might have expected to be hospitalized, now we are expecting to see 16 patients hospitalized. In the previous first and second waves, if we expected to see 10 ICU admissions, we now expect to see 20 ICU admissions among those same sort of groups. And when we are thinking about deaths, where we might have expected to see 10 deaths, we will now see 15 deaths.” – Dr. Adalsteinn Brown
With the province poised to move into yet another shutdown in a bid to clamp down on third-wave COVID-19 infections, driven largely by new variants of the virus, we are in a race against time trying to get people vaccinated, and we are behind in that race.
This morning, Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the Ontario COVID-19 science table, presented some chilling examples of the damage caused by new variants of the virus, notably the B.1.1.7 strain first identified in the United Kingdom, on families, children and youth, and the healthcare stystem.
“We cannot vaccinate quickly enough to break this third wave. This is the challenge of the new variants. Whole families are now showing up in intensive care. It used to be that one family member, often an older parent or grandparent, would be in an intensive care unit while other members of the family would have caught a much milder form of the disease, if at all,” he said.
“But with the new variants which are both more contagious and more dangerous, we are seeing situations where whole families end up in intensive care, all at the same time. This gets much more challenging because of the pressure that is already hitting our intensive care units. Even as people are fighting for their lives, we have to separate families. Ambulances and helicopters are moving them to other regions that have a spare bed.”
Premier Doug Ford is due to make an announcement today at 1:30 on new measures, but it is already being reported that he will move the province into the shutdown level of the Province’s colour-coded plan. It’s expected that the new restrictions will be in place Saturday, lasting 28 days and shutting down down bars and restaurant for indoor and patio dining, as well as services like salons and gyms. Non-essential stores are expected to be able to remain open at reduced levels.
It’s expected that the measures for the province will be similar to what is now in place for Hamilton, Toronto, Sudbury, and Thunder Bay. The response is being driven by a surge of COVID-19 patients in Ontario hospitals. New cases have jumped sharply since mid-March. Ontario reported 2,557 new cases today (Monday, April 1); there are now 1,111 patients with COVID-19 in hospitals across the province, with 396 in intensive care units (ICUs) and 256 on ventilators, the highest number since the start of the pandemic.
The virus is taking a toll on families and the healthcare system, said Brown.
“One family ended up spread between three hospitals, one in Simcoe, one in Toronto, and an adult child on a ventilator in the third city. Another family ended up spread between three cities, three different hospitals, and all of them died,” he said.
New strains of the virus are hitting younger, healthier people, he added.
“Over four days last week, one of the physicians we talked to described critical-care notes on a dozen patients fighting COVID-19, all of which said no past medical history, no medications, no allergies, and so on. Almost all of the patients described in these notes were under the age of 65. This doctor worked through the brunt of the first and second waves, and he told us very clearly that even at the worst of these times, he hadn’t seen this many young, otherwise healthy people fighting for their lives against COVID-19.”
Although the third wave is different than the earlier ones, what isn’t different are the tools available to combat the disease, he continued. Vaccination is key to long-term control, but relying in that alone isn’t enough, he said.
“Vaccination alone is not enough … the best weapons we have for short-term control are the public heath measures like masks, physical distancing and hand hygiene, staying outside if you need to meet people, and as a last resort stay-at-home orders. These measures only work if people understand them and can follow them. These measures are the key to the control of the pandemic now and the time that we need to vaccinate more Ontarians.”
He called the debate about a balance between public health measures and the economy a false one.
“The faster we get the pandemic under control, the faster we return to normal, and partial measures, half-hearted adherence and denial prolong the pandemic and make life harder for everyone. This is particularly true for children and for youth.”
New data Brown presented suggests and confirms:
• third wave is being driven by variants of concern
• younger people ending up in hospitals
• risk of ICU admission is two times higher and risk of death is 1.5 times higher for the B.1.1.7 variant
• COVID-19 threatens healthcare system’s ability to deal with regular ICU admissions
• vaccination is not reaching the highest-risk communities, delaying its impact as an effective strategy
• school disruptions have a significant and highly inequitable impact on students, parents and society. Further disruptions should be minimized
• stay at home orders will control the surge, protect access to care, and increase the chance of the summer Ontarians want.
• Cases are increasing in most of the public health units, above the red-control level in most units
• testing positivity is at 4.7 per cent in Ontario, with a high of 8.6 per cent in Peel
• testing numbers are flat so it is not a result of testing
• If nothing is done, new daily cases could reach 12,000 by the end of April
“This is not only a more contagious disease … it’s also a more dangerous disease. In the first and second waves when we were dealing with the earlier variants (that) had been first identified in China, for every 10 patients we might have expected to be hospitalized, now we are expecting to see 16 patients hospitalized,” said Brown.
“In the previous first and second waves, if we expected to see 10 ICU admissions, we now expect to see 20 ICU admissions among those same sort of groups. And when we are thinking about deaths, where we might have expected to see 10 deaths, we will now see 15 deaths.”