The latest modelling update from Ontario's science advisory table showed the third wave is beginning to crest — but at a very high level that is keeping the province's health-care system at risk.
"So this week, we will share data that has some hope in it," said science table co-chair Adalsteinn Brown. "But it's hope that requires a commitment... If we keep our commitment to getting our case numbers down, we can sustain our health system. And we can look toward a new normal that is hopefully better than the one we left when the pandemic started."
Brown warned that cases have crested "at a very high level" and the nature of COVID-19 and intensive care unit occupancy continues to climb.
"Our health-care system is no longer functioning normally," said Brown. "We're taking the most critically ill patients, we're putting them on helicopters and into ambulances, and moving them across the province because we're searching for beds. Nurses and doctors are attending to patients in field hospitals."
Brown warned that it will take time for cases to fall to a manageable level and a loosening of public health restrictions would lead to cases climbing again.
Depending on when restrictions were lifted, and what level of cases were present in the province, doing so could lead to a fourth wave that, while being shorter and milder than the third due to increasing vaccinations, would lead to an untenable situation as hospitals remain in a crisis state. Intensive Care Units (ICUs) are of greatest concern, as it takes weeks for occupancy to decrease and they remain overfull.
"Many countries and jurisdictions have been here before, it's tempting to relax when the numbers start to turn your way," he said. "But it will not work. This is the time to commit to getting them down, to setting goals towards which you can work, to making hope the basis of a commitment to get on top of this disease, rather than the excuse to relax. We still have a long journey in front of us."
Brown presented new modelling of new case counts that showed Ontario's current likely trajectory as a gradual lowering of daily numbers until the end of May to about 2,500 new cases a day, before picking up again following the lifting of public health restrictions, as currently scheduled, on May 20.
That would be "quite dangerous given that our ICUs have not yet started to empty out in any way," he said.
A best-case scenario, based on the idea that Ontario would have an effective sick pay program and shortens the list of essential workplaces, would see a decline to about 1,000 daily cases at the end of the month.
Brown said Ontario's current policies, including the recently announced paid sick leave plan, do not amount to the assumptions in the best-case scenario, as it is shorter than the two weeks recommended by the science table. Ontario has also not shortened the list of essential workplaces, another recommendation from the advisers.
Brown also noted that higher daily case numbers forecast in the previous briefing did not come to pass, but the ICU figures matched projections.
Brown concluded the presentation by urging Ontarians to wear masks outside if they're conducting high-risk activities where households mix, such as playing in a playground. He said that outside activities present a 20-fold lower risk than indoors, but a level of risk remains.