The Canadian Press
TORONTO — Ontario is in the midst of two different COVID-19 outbreaks, health officials said Monday, as community spread appears to have peaked, but cases in long-term care homes are rising.
New modelling released Monday predicts there will be fewer than 20,000 COVID-19 cases during the “first wave” of the pandemic – much less than the previous forecast of 80,000 – and with a peak earlier than the previously anticipated one of May.
The restrictions that have closed schools and non-essential businesses, banned public gatherings and encouraged people to stay home as much as possible have led to the better outcome, officials said.
Premier Doug Ford said Ontario has avoided the worst-case scenario, but the province isn’t out of the woods yet.
“Today we saw new modelling that shows there’s some light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “The numbers clearly show that the steps we have taken as a province are working and they’re working because of you.”
Officials did not offer a definite answer on when life would be getting back to normal, but Ford said the province has started working on a framework for a “gradual, measured and safe” reopening. He would not give specifics, but said the public will know more soon.
“I know many are eager to go back to work or school, back to visiting our friends or loved ones, back to our normal lives, and we will get there together,” he said.
Whenever some measures are lifted, it will be done very gradually and time will be taken to measure the impact of each change, officials said.
“This is not a dimmer switch that you can kind of turn it down or up and have an immediate response in terms of how bright the light is,” said Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.
When restrictions are reduced, the impacts will be felt in hospitals one, two or three weeks later, he said.
“Often by the time that hard end point shows up it’s actually too late to kind of turn down the dial again.”
Nevertheless, the province has already launched expert panels looking at how to restart some elements of the health-care system, such as elective procedures that have been paused, said Matthew Anderson, president and CEO of Ontario Health.
Ontario’s intensive care unit capacity is far from its maximum – 247 ICU beds are currently occupied by confirmed COVID-19 patients and the province’s base capacity of 687 beds has been expanded to more than 2,000 in anticipation of a surge.
But the spread in long-term care and other congregate settings seems to be growing.
There are outbreaks in 127 long-term care homes, and about half of the deaths in the province are residents from those facilities, said Brown.
A number of homes have been particularly hard hit, including Eatonville Care Centre in Toronto with 34 deaths and 138 infected, Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon with 29 deaths, Almonte Country Haven outside Ottawa with 23 deaths, Anson Place in Hagersville with 23 deaths, Seven Oaks in Toronto with 22 deaths, Salvation Army Meighen Health Centre in Toronto with 18 deaths, and Altamont Care Community in Toronto with 24 deaths. A personal support worker who worked at that facility also died.
Ontario implemented new measures last week for long-term care homes, including increased testing, redeploying hospital staff to long-term care homes, and preventing staff from working at more than one home – a practice that has contributed to the spread of the virus.
Those measures will take time to show results in tackling the long-term care spread, said associate chief medical officer of health Dr. Barbara Yaffe, and new steps aren’t planned at this time.
“We are confident that those measures will in fact have a great impact on outbreaks and preventing and controlling infection in this setting, but it doesn’t happen overnight,” she said.
According to daily data released by the province, 240 long-term care residents have died from COVID-19, but according to the data in Monday’s modelling, there were 367 deaths as of Saturday.
Officials have said the data comes from two different databases and will be reconciled in the future.
Ontario reported 606 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, the largest single-day increase, and 31 new deaths.
Despite the large increase, the new total of 11,184 cases is just 5.7 per cent higher than the day before, continuing a relatively low growth trend.
The total includes 584 deaths and 5,515 resolved cases.
The number of people in hospital confirmed to have COVID-19 and those on ventilators went down slightly, while the number of people in intensive care remained stable.
– with files from Shawn Jeffords