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WATCH: COVID variants may account for 40 per cent of cases by mid-March

While overall numbers are down, variants of concern are spreading across the province, modelling shows

During an update today provided by the Science Advisory and Modelling Consensus Tables, Dr. Adalsteinn Brown reported that although overall COVID-19 cases are down across the province, numbers are once again beginning to rise in some health units.

"Only care a caution will protect the gains we have right now. If we are very careful, we can imagine a much better summer," he said. "And a better summer is the payoff for the stay-at-home order and vaccinations."

Variants of concern (VOC), including the UK variant B.1.1.7, also pose serious risks. Cases in the UK recently tripled within a month, resulting in stricter lockdown orders, Dr. Brown stated.

While proportions and mobility of VOCs are increasing across Ontario, Dr. Brown said that current vaccinations do provide protection against these new variants.

"We have to give the vaccines time to work at the population level. We all know that the new variants spread more quickly than the old variants. We need the next few weeks to actually changing the pandemic, especially with schools open."

Although current numbers are better than previously projected, new modelling shows that that VOCs will likely count for 40 percent of positive COVID-19 cases by the second week of March.

It was reported today that mortality rates and active cases in long-term care homes (LTCH) have substantially declined, and outbreaks are also down across the province.

However, cumulative LTCH deaths during the current second wave have now surpassed those reported in the first wave.

In order to maintain the gains made in the fight against COVID-19, strong public health measures and continued vaccination efforts must be maintained, the Science Advisory Table reports.

The modelling indicates that:

  • A combination of vaccination and public health measures should help reduce transmission:
    • Strong public health measures brought cases down and slowed spread of new variants of concern
    • Vaccination in long-term care has helped bring down deaths and cases
    • Vaccination of older age groups and high-risk communities will drive hospitalizations and deaths down further
  • A changing environment for COVID-19 will help decrease transmission
    • Warmer weather will increase time outdoors and decrease time in crowded or closed-in places
    • Increasing vaccination should confer immunity more reliably and safer than historical models (1918 Influenza pandemic) that had to rely on the spread of infection alone
  • The major challenge becomes how to protect the health system over the next few months and closely monitor the spread of all types of cases while accelerating vaccination
  • We should expect flares in communities and settings where risk factors make people vulnerable

The full report presented by the Science Advisory and Modelling Consensus Tables can be viewed here.

Original information:
Ontario can expect the the latest COVID-19 projections for the province today.

At 3 p.m., Dr. Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown, Dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto and Co-Chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, will present the most recent data from the group.

Two weeks ago, Brown stated that projections indicated more contagious variants of COVID-19 are spreading in the province, accounting for five to 10 per cent of all cases.

There have been 297,311 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ontario since the pandemic began, 280,324 of which have been resolved and 6,916 were fatal.

While restrictions have been loosed for most of the province, Toronto, Peel Region and North Bay remain under a stay-at-home order.

Village Media will carry the livestream of the media briefing, so stay tuned.