New cases of COVID-19 linked to the Omicron variant are expected to peak this month in Ontario, Health Minister Christine Elliott said Wednesday, while an announcement on lifting current public health restrictions is likely coming later this week.
“We are starting to see glimmers of hope. The sacrifices you are making now mean we are beginning to see signs of stabilization,” Elliott said of the current COVID-19 wave at a morning news conference. She was joined by by Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, and Matthew Anderson, CEO of Ontario Health.
The trio held the news conference, they said, to share the latest COVID-related data and trends in the province ahead of the government’s decision about ongoing health measures expected this week.
While 4,132 people are currently in hospital with COVID-19, new admissions are starting to slow and are doubling every two weeks or so. Earlier this month, they were doubling every few days.
Moreover, the average length of stay in both hospitals and intensive care units for COVID-19 patients are stabilizing, Elliott added. Currently, patients admitted to hospital with the Omicron variant require on average about five days of care, compared to an average of nine days for cases caused by the Delta variant.
Similar trends are emerging for ICU admissions, said Moore. The average length of stay in ICUs is flattening at around six or seven days. During earlier waves of the pandemic in 2021, the average stay ballooned to almost 20 days, with many patients experiencing multiple organ failures simultaneously, Moore said.
This morning, the health ministry reported there were 589 patients with COVID-19 in Ontario’s ICUs, marking the highest point since June 5 — shortly after the peak of the third wave of the pandemic. The province says 82.1 per cent of those people are in ICU for reasons directly linked to COVID-19, while 17.9 per cent were admitted for other reasons.
Overall hospitalizations are anticipated to peak in the weeks after new cases do so, Elliot said, but February will still be very difficult for the province’s health-care system.
That said, there are also some positive signs emerging in terms of hospital staffing and capacity, Anderson said. Sick calls due to COVID-19 have placed tremendous strain on the health-care system in recent weeks, but some health units are reporting decreases in absenteeism among staff who are sick or who were exposed to the virus, he explained.
Public health measures and restrictions introduced in early January appear to be helping to slow transmission of the virus, according to Moore.
Restaurants were ordered to close for indoor dining. Museums, zoos and other such attractions were shut down, as were gyms, indoor recreation facilities, cinemas and indoor concert venues. Retail settings and personal care services were capped at 50 per cent capacity.
Moore said at the time that the restrictions would remain in place until at least Jan. 26. Asked today if that date is still firm with students heading back to school for class, he didn’t directly answer, saying it is a “government decision.”
Meanwhile, test positivity rates seem to be stabilizing at between 20 and 25 per cent, Moore said — still far higher than during previous waves but a drop from rates into the low 30s seen in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, the province changed the criteria for who qualifies for a PCR test in a bid to reduce strain on the system. The province is currently processing a daily average of about 53,000 tests per day, Moore said. Roughly 64 per cent of people get their results within two days.
“We are absolutely working on improving the turnaround time,” he told reporters.