Updated COVID-19 models suggest community spread of the novel coronavirus appears to have peaked earlier than expected in Ontario, public health officials say, but they caution the public must “stay the course” to ensure a best-case scenario remains achievable in the weeks ahead.
The revised projections come as health authorities provide a briefing on Monday afternoon on the current status of COVID-19 in Ontario.
The total number of cases for the span of this wave of the outbreak is “now likely less than 20,000” — if the physical distancing and other emergency measures remain in place, documents provided by the province’s dedicated COVID-19 task force say.
That figure is “substantially lower” than the worst-case scenario of 300,000 and expected-case scenario of 80,000 included in Ontario’s previous modelling update on April 3.
Experts initially anticipated a peak of community spread at some point in May.
Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the University of Toronto’s public health department, noted that the so-called peak period can last for several days or longer.
“Peaks are not a nice single sort of spike. They can be a little bit bumpy, they can be prolonged for a period of time,” he said.
In their update, officials drew a distinction between the COVID-19 situation among the general community and that in the province’s long-term care facilities, where the number of cases and deaths is growing considerably each day.
“We’re at peak in the community, but still in that accelerating upswing of the curve in long-term care,” Brown said.
Brown was joined by Matthew Anderson, the head of Ontario Health and Dr. Barbara Yaffe, associate chief medical officer of health, at the briefing.
Yaffe emphasized that physical distancing and other measures are working, but warned that they will likely need to remain in place for the foreseeable future.
“When we do start to lift some of the measures, it will not be a light switch on and off, it will have to be very gradual. And we will have to measure the impact of each change as we make it,” she said.
“Once we lift it it will be very hard to go back,” Yaffe continued, cautioning that the data presented today is a snapshot of COVID-19 in Ontario as of two to three weeks ago, given the lag time in how long it takes for an infected person to show symptoms, get tested and — in some cases — die.
606 new cases reported today
Earlier today, the province reported that the total number of COVID-19 cases since the outbreak began has topped 11,000.
The 606 new cases confirmed today means that Ontario’s tally now stands at 11,184, including at least 613 deaths and 5,515 cases that are considered resolved. Just over 11 per cent of all cases, or 1,267, are health-care workers.
The province says it processed 8,743 test samples since its last update, and 3,799 people are still awaiting results.
Some 802 people are currently battling COVID-19 in hospital, down slightly from the weekend, while 247 of those patients are in intensive care units. Of those, 193 are on ventilators.
Meanwhile, Premier Doug Ford said late last week that he had been given “encouraging” information in recent private briefings from the Ministry of Health that suggests physical distancing measures are helping to contain the novel coronavirus.
He went on to caution however that the fight against COVID-19 is far from over.
“We have a real fight on our hands still, as much as the modelling looked a little positive, it can go the other way. We could see a second stream of this coming,” Ford said at a news conference Friday.
During their initial modelling briefing earlier this month, health experts said that COVID-19 could kill 3,000 to 15,000 people in Ontario and that its impact could be felt for up to two years.
They added that the models suggest emergency measures will have helped to prevent up to 300,000 cases and as many as 6,000 additional deaths by the end of the month.
That same day, Ford ordered more businesses in the province to close.
Previous modelling also showed that by today, under the “best case scenario,” more than 1,200 people confirmed to have COVID-19 would be in intensive care units, but currently that number is at 247.
Ford, along with Ontario’s minister of health and minister of long-term care, is expected to make an announcement at 1:30 p.m. ET.
More long-term care home deaths
Outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported in 127 long-term care facilities, according to the province’s task force.
Administrators at the Meighen Health Centre, a retirement facility in midtown Toronto operated by The Salvation Army, said Monday that 18 residents had “recently” died after contracting the novel coronavirus. Fifty additional residents and 14 staff have also tested positive, the organization said in an email.
“Residents are isolating in their rooms and we have directly contacted the families of those impacted,” the email continued.
“Our deepest sympathies, thoughts and prayers are with the family members who have lost their loved ones.”
The Ministry of Health says there has been 249 deaths among residents at long-term care homes in the province, while one staff member has died. However the figures provided today by the COVID-19 task force put deaths in long-term care at 367.
Some 33 people have died at Eatonville Care Centre in west Toronto, and 23 deaths have been reported at Seven Oaks in east Toronto.