COVID-19 rates among Ontario children are emerging amidst a wave of cases that is sending more children to the emergency room, according to Ontario figures.
Physicians say schools are likely to be a place where the disease is spreading fast, urging a return to mask mandates that might provide a barrier to rapid spread in an environment where anyone who is under five is not eligible for vaccinations.
“We’re not in a good place,” Dr. Brett Belchetz, an emergency room doctor, told CTV News Toronto in an interview. “Most schools unfortunately, are a perfect breeding ground for infection. They’re small, closed, crowded crowded spaces and when you’re in a space like that where no one is wearing a mask and you’re talking about an airborne disease that can easily traverse the distance between students, one child with COVID is likely to make many others sick.”
Provincial data shows COVID-19 rates of vaccinated five to 11 year olds have risen about 60 per cent in the past two weeks. Rates for unvaccinated five to 11 year olds have gone up about 76 per cent in that time.
And COVID-19 rates for those under five, who are not eligible to be vaccinated, have more than doubled, rising 108 per cent in the past two weeks.
Emergency room physician Dr. Steve Flindall says he is seeing many people come in under five years old.
“It’s very frustrating. We keep going through this over and over again,” Flindall said, adding that putting unvaccinated children in school with no mask mandate is “like putting fire to tinder.”
“We’ve got to get masks back in place for public settings, especially schools,” he said.
Provincial data says some 75 children have been admitted to hospital between March 21 and April 4, with 55 of them under five years old.
In Toronto’s SickKids hospital, there are 10 pediatric cases. In McMaster, there are less than five. In CHEO, a pediatric hospital and research center in Ottawa, there are seven children admitted.
Last week’s COVID-19 admissions were the highest since the fifth wave in January, the hospital said, with more than 58 per cent of all COVID-19 related admissions.
Provincial data says one child has died in Ontario from COVID-19 in the past two weeks.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the surge was anticipated when the province removed mask mandates last month.
“With the antiviral medications coming into greater supply across the province, and knowing that we have the capability in our hospitals to manage this, this is something we’re sure we’re able to get through, there is no cause for panic, that this was anticipated,” she said.