The head of Ontario’s Science Advisory Table says rising COVID-19 case counts in the province are an “early sign” that we are on the wrong trajectory and people must reassess their own behavior to help bring things under control.
Over the past several days, case counts have been steadily rising in the province with the seven-day rolling average of new infections jumping to nearly 500 today, up from just 371 one week ago.
Dr. Peter Jüni, head of Ontario’s Science Advisory Table, said the increase can be attributed to a “combination of factors,” including a drop in temperature and people getting “more adventurous” by expanding their social circle.
“The situation is quite OK still but we are just not on the trajectory that we want to stay,” he said.
“Right now we have a doubling time of 17 days, meaning that if this continues like that, 500 cases per day right now on average will become about 1,000 cases per day in about two-and-a-half weeks from now.”
Jüni said he still agrees with the decision to lift capacity restrictions but added that small adjustments may need to be made in order to get things under control.
“This was a bit of an experiment and one needs to find out what we can afford in terms of activity given our vaccine protection,” he said when discussing his support for easing capacity restrictions in places where vaccination is mandatory.
He said stronger enforcement of policies may be required.
“When I look at sports arenas, loads of people don’t wear their masks… Restaurant owners, do they really use vaccine certificates properly?”
He said little changes in individual behavior will also make a big impact, adding that people will once again need to consider whether it is necessary to work in the office or partake in larger, private gatherings.
“You just need to make sure that you start to be a bit more selective with the circle of friends you are seeing in an unprotected way, not outside, not with masks and distancing,” Jüni said.
“If we all just do a little bit of that and use our vaccine certificates really consistently, we might start to get things under control again.”
He said now is not the time to “panic,” but added that Ontarians cannot afford to keep things status quo.
“This is an early sign. We see we are on the wrong track. But right now our ICU capacity looks good, our hospital capacity looks good. If we now would wait and just pretend everything is OK for four to six weeks, we probably would start to struggle,” he said.
“It went wrong in Alberta relatively recently and we should just take that as a warning sign.”
Jüni noted that in recent days, some of the smaller public health units in the province have seen a significant spike in transmission compared to larger cities.
“Most of the public health units are now in exponential growth again. There are some places that struggle more perhaps because they have seen less cases, perhaps because they don’t take it always that seriously because they looked quite OK during the first and second wave,” he said.
On Tuesday, Sudbury and its surrounding area saw 61 new infections, a higher case count than the ones reported in much larger regions, including Toronto and Peel.
“It will be important now again to approach things also on a regional level,” Jüni said.
“Some places like Sudbury need to react earlier than Toronto and Peel it seems.”
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday morning, Mayor John Tory said that while important discussions should be had about the province’s current path, Toronto’s numbers have remained flat.
“They remain relatively better than they were either earlier this year or a year ago,” Tory said.
“As these kind of things change and as we continue to adjust to large sporting events and increased capacity that was brought in for restaurants and other kinds of venues, we are constantly monitoring these numbers on a daily basis and making sure that we do everything we can.”
PROVINCE ANTICIPATED RISE IN CASES: HEALTH MINISTER
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott confirmed Tuesday that the province does not intend to change course with its reopening plan and said that if any public health restrictions are re-imposed, it will likely be up to local medical officers of health to make that decision.
“The plan that we have put in place has been tested and considered many different ways. Dr. Moore, our chief medical officer of health, still feels very strongly that the system is ready to deal with some increase in cases,” she told reporters. at a news conference in Brampton.
“We do know there are going to be increases in cases as the weather turns colder and that has been brought into the equation when we figured out the plan in the first place.”
She said while her government intends to continue to monitor the situation, the last thing the province wants to do is “move backwards and go into a further lockdown.”
She said moving forward, the province will take a regional approach to restrictions.
“We are seeing some regional variations where we are seeing some increased cases. There has been one in Sudbury,” she said.
“It is primarily up to the local medical officers of health because they know their areas very well and they know where the breakouts may be happening and they know what steps need to be taken. But the steps are always taken in consultation with Dr. Moore and his team.”