Ontario has likely entered a new wave of COVID-19, driven by the Omicron BA.5 subvariant, the province’s scientific advisory panel said Wednesday, citing exponential growth in most public health facilities.
The Scientific Advisory Table on COVID-19 points to several key indicators it says signal the start of a wave, just over a month after most public health measures, including mask-wearing mandates, ended.
For the first time since May, test positivity is above 10 percent, the expert group said in a series of tweets on Wednesday. Sewage alerts are increasing across the province as a whole and in most regions, it added.
About 80 percent of public health units have seen an exponential rise in cases, although the group says the actual number of reproductions is difficult to determine since the province restricted PCR testing.
4) ~80% of public health units have exponential case growth (Rt>1), indicating that this is occurring across the province (Note that Rt is more difficult to interpret given limited PCR testing).
(7/17) < a href="https://t.co/XXwMWwNCU1">pic.twitter.com/XXwMWwNCU1
Ontario also saw its first increase in hospitalizations with COVID-19 since May, with the number of admissions for the virus higher than at any time last summer.
The latest numbers tracked by Science Table show that as of June 29, 605 people had been hospitalized as a result of the virus. This is an increase of 89 people compared to the previous week.
About six people a day were dying from the virus as of July 3, up from three the previous week, the group said.
Indications of a new wave in Ontario come as several G10 countries have already seen a spike in cases caused by sub-variants of Omicron, including France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland, among others.
“We may be a few weeks behind in this rise,” the advisory group said.
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The group says the current evidence does not suggest that BA.5 is more severe than the strains that have caused previous waves, or that it will lead to the level of hospitalizations seen in earlier stages of the pandemic.
“However, each jump comes at a time when hospitals are already dealing with staff shortages and record waiting times – this affects us all,” the advisory table said.
“And if BA.5 becomes widespread, we may see an increase in deaths among higher-risk groups such as the elderly, as seen during previous waves.”
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The group advises anyone in a crowded indoor public place to wear a high-quality mask and ventilate as much as possible by opening doors and windows for airflow.
Anyone over the age of 18 who has not received a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine should “get it now,” the group says.
Anyone over 60 or immunocompromised should also get their fourth dose now, it said, noting that while updated vaccines targeting newer variants may be available this fall, “it makes sense to get the vaccines you are entitled to now’.
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“You can be re-infected by BA.5 even if you have recently been infected with an earlier strain,” the group says. “Mild infections can still be disruptive to your life and increase your long-term risk of COVID.
Providing a clear and complete picture of the state of COVID-19 has become increasingly difficult over the past few months after the provincial government restricted laboratory testing and stopped releasing school-related data.
On June 11, the province also switched to weekly reporting of COVID-19 data after more than two years of daily updates.