Ontario’s doctors appealed to the government to continue pandemic restrictions for a while longer to avoid a Third Wave of COVID-19 cases caused by new variants of the virus.
Doctors also called on the government to adjust the colour-coded framework to be even stricter in view of how the variants are spreading.
The recent drop in new COVID-19 cases is good news. However, the new variants account for at least five to 10 per cent of confirmed cases and are doubling every seven to 10 days, meaning they will be the dominant strain of COVID in Ontario by mid-March. They are already present in many long-term care homes in Toronto. The government framework developed last fall was for the original strain, so it does not reflect the new variants, which are more infectious.
Given that it takes a while for an infected person to show symptoms, decisions are currently being made using case numbers that are several weeks old. The gap is even longer between the time tests are done for the variants and results are reported. This means we could well be into a Third Wave before the daily case counts start to rise.
“After projections of up to 40,000 new cases daily in the second wave, which would have resulted essentially in the collapse of health-care delivery as we know it, the current case count feels like nothing short of a miracle,” said Dr. Samantha Hill, president of the Ontario Medical Association.
“The existence of an effective vaccine feels like another miracle. Perhaps our biggest miracle, though, is how during these horribly challenging times, the majority of Ontarians have rallied repeatedly, despite personal and fiscal losses, psychological distress, and mixed messaging on social media, to do the right thing. I know we are all weary, but the last year has proven that we can persevere, be steadfast and resolute in our adherence to public health guidelines. We can protect our most vulnerable for a short while longer while vaccines get distributed, we see our children back in school and we learn about the new variants. We can only get through this together, but together we can and we will.”
The OMA urges pandemic-weary Ontarians to continue to stay home, socialize only with household members and strictly adhere to other public health restrictions as the fastest way to return to a “new normal.” Spring is only weeks away, when we can open our windows and spend more time outdoors, where the risk of virus transmission is lower.
The OMA also recommends:
- Banning indoor dining in regions in the “red zone” and other mask-less indoor activities with non-household members, and encouraging residents to support local businesses by ordering takeout
- In regions where indoor dining is permitted, only household members should be allowed to sit together at dining tables
- Encouraging retailers to offer curbside pickup rather than in-store shopping
- Keeping a close eye on the spread of variants to determine whether to shorten the time people can socialize outdoors without masks to less than the current recommended 15 minutes
- Watching whether the spread of variants overwhelms existing rapid testing arrangements and whether they need to be expanded to all schools and essential workplaces
- Ensuring there are plans in place to expeditiously administer the vaccines expected to arrive in the next week or so
“Public health doctors are deeply concerned about new COVID-19 variants in Ontario,” said OMA CEO Allan O’Dette. “These variants may have the ability to spread much more quickly and undo the hard work of 14 million Ontarians. Let’s all continue to follow public health guidelines and keep the infection rate under control while we get everyone vaccinated.”