‘We’re in a wave’: COVID-19 cases on rise in Ontario as new highly-mutated variant emerges

After months of declining cases, Ontario public health data is showing an uptick of COVID-19 cases this summer.

“Every single year in Canada, since the emergence of COVID-19, we’ve seen a rise in the community burden of COVID-19 as summer enters fall season and to no one’s surprise we’re going to see the same thing this year,” said infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch.

While in May, the World Health Organization declared and an end to the COVID-19 emergency — the virus did not go away.

Waste water and test data are still collected, and since the end of July in Ontario — cases appear to be on the rise.

Last August, the percentage of tests coming back positive was moderate at 13.4 per cent, then moved to its highest point over the past 12 months in January at 17.1 per cent. Right now, test positivity is considered low at 7.2 per cent.

“We’re in a wave right now,” said Dr. Fahad Razak, former scientific director of Ontario’s now disbanded COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

Currently, the dominant strain is EG.5, which stems from Omicron. The other new strain is BA2.86 and also comes from Omicron. But Razak, now a professor at the University of Toronto and internist at St. Michael’s Hospital, said BA2.86 is a variant to watch because it’s highly mutated.

“[There’s] only a handful of cases, nothing to suggest that it’s more severe or transmissible, but the reason is when a version of the virus has mutated this much, it has that potential to spread widely and evade the immune system and the next one to two weeks will be really critical to learn more.”

COVID-19 Ontario data

Bogoch said on our side this fall is that most people in Canada have some COVID immunity alongside years of knowledge and developing tools for protection, like wearing a mask, improving indoor air quality and vaccines.

“They used to protect infection rather well, they don’t do that nearly as well as they did, but they still protect us against more serious manifestations of the virus,” he said.

“Sadly, some people are going to hospitalized, some are going to succumb to illness … but what were seeing now, time stamping this August 2023, we’re not going to see scenes like we saw earlier in the pandemic.”

When it comes to timing the next shot — Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends a dose of the new vaccine, expected to be approved and available early this fall, for long-term care residents and adults 65 and up, if it’s been six months since their last shot or infection.

Bogoch said anyone who’s wondering what exactly to do should contact their health-care provider.

“Most people are now six months out from getting infected or vaccinated. If you’re in a high-risk group, an older individual, have underlying health conditions, if you’re in a high-risk setting like long-term care, this would be a very good time to refresh your immunity against the disease,” said Razak.

Razak recommends as a physician those at high-risk get the shots.

“For everyone else there isn’t a strong recommendation yet … so as we head into the fall, pay attention to the public health recommendations.”

He said to watch for specific groups listed which will benefit most. 

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