Hamilton’s health medical officer says a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the city appears to be related to the Omicron variant “taking off” faster than originally anticipated.

During a public health update Tuesday afternoon, the city’s top physician says additional local restrictions are being actively considered due to “increasing pressure” on the city’s contact tracing with several suspected Omicron cases now under research.

“We are at an uncertain time in the pandemic where this new variant has emerged and spread rapidly,” said Elizabeth Richardson.

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“It’s not about getting the lead time that we’ve had, for example, with Delta, to understand a little more about our partners around the world.”

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Richardson said the cases of three new outbreaks in the city are being treated as Omicron infections as at least one case in each has been confirmed as variant.

“Two of them are related to social gatherings, a West End pub event and … the Homewood Suites Hamilton Room,” Richardson said.

“The third is at St. Patrick Catholic Elementary School, and we will continue to verify the Omicron cases … through whole genome sequencing.”

The province’s medical director acknowledged the accelerated emergence of the variant during a briefing Tuesday in which he revealed ongoing discussions with regional public health units about possible plans to halt the spread.

A spike in COVID numbers in Ontario has reached worrying levels in a couple of regions, such as Kingston and Windsor-Essex, which have again adopted stricter public health measures.

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Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s senior physician, said nursing homes and long-term care homes starting this week will now have to implement protocols that prohibit late-night absences and require fully immunized visitors to test negative on the COVID test upon entry.

When asked about the possible return of capacity restrictions for large public gatherings, such as live sporting events, he said it is a topic of discussion.

“We are reviewing all directions of our policy in light of Omicron, but again they have to be proportionate, they have to be prudent, they have to be reasonable in the face of Omicron’s risk,” he said.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that the new variant is found in 77 countries around the world and data suggests that even among fully vaccinated people, it is infecting four to eight times more people than the Delta variant.

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“This could put significant pressure on our healthcare system,” Richardson said.

“It seems that he is arguing that the severity is lower in those vaccinated, so we want to emphasize that vaccination continues to be a very important part of this protection against Omnicom.”

He went on to say that residents should begin to carefully consider plans for Christmas gatherings and potentially prioritize “properly donned” masks and maintain physical distance.

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“Start now by thinking about what your personal situation is for your family in terms of your risk of serious outcomes from this virus,” Richardson said.

“Start thinking about the adjustments that may be needed and we will present you with additional recommendations in the coming days.”

Hamilton’s 7-day COVID-19 case rate averaging 53 per day

Hamilton’s average number of daily COVID-19 cases for the past seven days is now a similar number seen in early September, according to public health.

On Tuesday, authorities reported a rate of 53 cases in seven days, up from 48 reported on Monday. The last time the city saw a higher number was on September 6, when Hamilton had a weekly case rate of 56.

Active cases increased for the seventh day in a row, from 346 to 411 on Tuesday. It is the first time in nearly three months that the city has seen more than 400 active cases, reporting 406 on September 9.

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More than 75% of active cases correspond to people under 50 years of age, while 44% of infected people are under 30 years of age.

The city has reported 20 outbreaks ongoing as of December 14, linked to a total of 62 cases. Nine of the surges occur in schools: seven in primary facilities and a couple in secondary facilities.

City health officials say schools have been producing about five cases a day since late October, with the highest incidences among those aged five to 11.

In the last 14 days, both public boards have reported 120 cases, 107 of them among students.

Hospitals in Hamilton reported a combined 26 COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday, 12 more than the 14 reported Friday.

Both St. Joe’s and Hamilton Health Sciences average less than one new hospital admission per day.

More than 78% of eligible Hamiltonians are fully vaccinated

Hamilton’s health partners administered about 3,800 doses of vaccines on Monday, a 65 percent increase in injections compared to a week ago.

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At least 19,450 doses have been administered during the past seven days, which is an increase from the 17,650 that were estimated to be administered in the previous seven days.

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As of Monday, 78.7 percent of eligible Hamiltonians over the age of five have been fully vaccinated, while 83.2 percent have received at least a single dose.

Just over 85 percent of residents over the age of 12 have received at least one pair of vaccinations, while about 88 percent have received one.

The city still lags behind the provincial average, which has 87.6 percent vaccinated over 12 and 90.3 percent with at least a single dose.

People aged 60 and over in the city have reached the Ministry of Health’s goal of 90% coverage of the first and second doses.

Excluding newly eligible children ages five to 11, Hamiltonians in the 25-29 age group account for the lowest vaccination rates of those eligible in the community with just over 77 percent fully vaccinated.

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