Ontario should prepare for a moderate rebound in hospital admissions due to COVID-19 between now and May, as all remaining surveillance suggests the Omicron wave has hit bottom and is starting to trend back upwards, new modeling suggests.
With the mask mandate ending in most spaces in four days, and the arrival of the BA.2 Omicron subvariant, hospital ICU occupancy could increase by a third to 300 patients by May, the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table says.
Overall hospital admissions could return to about 800 by this time, significantly lower than the peak in mid-January where overall admissions testing positive for COVID-19 exceeded 4,100.
On Thursday, ICU occupancy due to COVID-19 fell below 200 and there were 644 total patients admitted across the province.
The modellers cite wastewater signal data that finds recent increases in all regions other than Ontario’s north, and samples of test positivity among groups still covered by PCR testing, where workplace screening programs have shown increases since mid-February.
Among people under age 59 who have had 40+ PCR tests since Mar. 2020, mostly essential health care and congregate care workers, positivity has trended upward since the start of February.
This latest model is subject to significant uncertainty, modellers warn.
“There remains uncertainty on current community levels of immunity, future change in behaviour, and future spread of the more transmissible BA.2 subvariant.”
Science Table leader Dr. Peter Jüni told CP24 the public should take away a sense of measured caution from this latest projection.
“We don’t pretend the pandemic is over overnight and drop all of the masks like t-shirts on the beach, but just keep transitioning into more liberty over time. (We) slowly increase number of contacts, slowly stop using masks in various situations.”
In its last projections, the Table outright stated that restrictions not only on availability of PCR tests, but the fact that no positive rapid antigen test results are documented in Ontario make it increasingly difficult to model spread of infection in the province.
They continue to estimate only one in every 10 infections now make it into provincial data.
The modellers say the province must be prepared to re-introduce mask mandates, vaccine passports, and continue to improve ventilation and air filtration in public spaces if spread gets out of control.
“The scenarios don’t assume that people change their behavior like a light switch overnight,” Dr. Jüni said.
Ontario Ministry of Health spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene said the province is continuing to focus on maintaining adequate hospital capacity should transmission increase.
“Ontario has done significantly better than the best case scenario provided in the last modeling and we now have the lowest rate of hospitalizations out of all provinces. We have continued to maintain capacity to provide care for all patients who need it, and our hospitals can manage any range in these latest projections.”
THIRD DOSE BLITZ BLUNTED IMPACT OF OMICRON
The modellers also found that the intense campaign to get third COVID-19 vaccine doses to all adults, starting in late December, had a marked impact on hospital admissions caused by COVID-19 the following month.
Without third doses, there would have been more than 5,000 patients admitted to hospital at the peak of Omicron in the third week of January, 34 per cent higher than the observed peak of admissions in the month.
In the ICU, there would have been more than 200 more patients admitted by Jan. 20, a 30 per cent increase over the observed peak in admissions.