Toronto health officials say respiratory illnesses are high but stabilizing, while Hamilton hospitals warn they are above capacity.

Toronto public health officials say the level of respiratory illnesses in the city remains high but appears to be declining following a wave of infections over the holidays.

“COVID 19 and influenza activity is high in Toronto, but we know influenza levels are declining,” Dr. Irene Armstrong, associate medical officer of health, told the Toronto Board of Health. during a presentation on Monday.

Percent positivity for influenza stood at 6.6 percent during the most recent week, compared to 15.6 percent the previous week. The COVID-19 percent positivity rate was “high but stable,” Armstrong said, standing at 17.6 percent for the most recent week, down slightly by a percentage point from the previous week.

Ontario’s COVID-19 wastewater signal has also stabilized after reaching a high in more than a year. The latest data from Public Health Ontario puts the number at 2.38. This figure is still almost double what it was a year ago (1.38), but is virtually unchanged from where it was in mid-December, suggesting that virus transmission has at least stabilized for the time being.

Meanwhile, after seeing a steady increase since September and an increase during the late December holidays, visits to Toronto’s emergency department for respiratory illnesses are decreasing, although they remain at moderate levels.

“Influenza levels right now are higher than the typical pre-pandemic historical average for this time of year,” Armstrong said. “Historically, before the pandemic, influenza activity began in November and peaked in late December or early January. For the 2023-2024 season, it began a little earlier, in mid-October, and appears to have peaked towards the end of December.”

While there are signs that infections may be declining somewhat, the overall level of viral activity remains high.

“While we are currently unable to update our wastewater dashboard, we are still monitoring the raw data and see that signals for both influenza and COVID 19 in Toronto wastewater are high but stable at this time,” he said. Armstrong.

Health officials said there were 72 active COVID-19 outbreaks at healthcare institutions in the city as of Jan. 12. Additionally, there were 15 influenza outbreaks and nine RSV outbreaks.

Those numbers are similar to the number of outbreaks seen around the same time in the 2022-2023 season, Armstrong said.

“Respiratory outbreak activity is high in hospitals, nursing homes and nursing homes across the city,” he said. “This is not unexpected for this time of year. It is too early to determine if we are at a peak in overall respiratory outbreak activity in Toronto.”

During the period January 2-10, TPH received reports of 122 COVID-19-related hospitalizations, eight new ICU admissions, and 44 COVID-related deaths.

In Hamilton, health officials last week urged people to do everything they can to reduce the spread of respiratory viruses, as hospitals are currently “under extreme pressure” and overcapacity.

“We are seeing a high volume of sicker people in our EDs due to viral season,” Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) said in a statement last week. “At the same time, staff absences due to illness pose a challenge to meeting the needs of this growing volume of patients.”

Adult acute occupancy at all HHS sites is consistently above 100 percent and some patients are currently being treated in emergency spaces, such as hallways, the hospital network said.

HHS said nine surgeries were postponed last week due to the situation and it is expediting patient discharges, where appropriate, to meet demand.

“Hamilton healthcare partners are asking for the community’s help to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses this fall/winter season and preserve access to urgent care and the city’s emergency resources for those who need them most. “HHS said.

To reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses, people continue to be encouraged to stay home if they feel unwell and to use rapid tests to check for COVID-19. Health officials have cautioned that a single negative rapid test is not necessarily a conclusive indicator that a person does not have COVID-19. Those who are sick should have multiple tests over several days to get a more accurate evaluation.

Armstrong said TPH is also working to provide access to the Novavax vaccine, a non-mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, which was approved by Health Canada on Dec. 5.

The health unit also expanded eligibility for the new RSV vaccine on December 7.

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