The next week in Ontario’s battle with the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic will be crucial, an infections diseases expert said Sunday after the province reported more than 1,000 daily cases for the first time since the start of the global outbreak.
Sunday’s numbers, which included 1,042 new cases of the novel coronavirus and seven more deaths from the illness, broke the previous day’s peak of 978 new positive cases.
Provincial figures showed 278 people hospitalized in Ontario due to the virus, including 79 in intensive care.
“While I don’t really think it’s appropriate to react to the day-to-day variation, the trend is still headed in the wrong direction,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious disease specialist and researcher at Toronto General Hospital.
Bogoch said that the source of the recent spike was not entirely clear, but he pointed to possible factors including Thanksgiving festivities that took place two weeks ago. The incubation period for COVID-19 is widely believed to be about 14 days.
Tightened public health restrictions went into effect around the same time in provincial infection hot spots such as Ottawa, Toronto and the neighbouring region of Peel around the same time, but Bogoch said such measures don’t produce results immediately.
He said the recent rise in case numbers is not surprising, noting the true effectiveness of the latest round of public health measures may be seen in the coming days.
“I think the week ahead will be very telling, to tell us which direction we’re headed in and if the province will take further measures to control spread,” he said.
Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa were moved back to a modified version of Stage 2 of Ontario’s pandemic recovery plan amid surging case numbers, with the Toronto-area region of York joining them last Monday.
Nearby Halton and Durham Regions spent the weekend awaiting news of whether further measures would effect their daily lives come Monday.
Premier Doug Ford said Friday that officials are watching case numbers in those regions with concern, promising a Monday announcement on whether the areas would join other provincial hot spots in the modified Stage 2.
Politicians from Halton Region appealed to provincial officials for targeted restrictions rather than blanket rules.
Mayors and provincial legislators representing area ridings have argued to the premier and the province’s top doctor that the data behind the move is unclear. They also argued local hospitals have capacity to handle a surge in cases.
Sunday’s provincial data showed 309 of the latest COVID-19 cases were found in Toronto, 289 in Peel, 117 in York Region, 80 in Ottawa. Fifty-two additional cases were reported in Durham and 31 in Halton.
Bogoch said the Halton politicians’ request for targeted measures isn’t unreasonable, provided the provincial response is guided by data.
He said there are some areas where the province could look to control the spread of the virus, such as further restrictions on gyms, indoor dining, private gatherings, factory settings where employees work close together or places of worship. But Bogoch said the high case numbers limit decision-makers’ options.
“From a policy standpoint, these are really reactionary approaches, but unfortunately, your hands are tied when your face numbers are this high and these sort of blunt policies are really the way to go,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2020.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press